Obama Banks on the Ground Game

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Alex Wong / Getty Images

Obama campaign volunteer Peggy Tyus helps to register voters at a weekly farmers market in Virginia in August

With the surge in Republican enthusiasm and John McCain's poll numbers generated by the emergence of Sarah Palin as a GOP superstar, it's no wonder that many Democrats are already hitting the panic button. The Obama campaign, however, isn't sounding any alarms, and it's not just because it believes the post-convention glow will disappear soon enough and voters will get back to focusing on issues more than personality. Much of its confidence stems from a tactical advantage on the ground it showcased to great effect in the primary battle with Hillary Clinton, one which it believes could be the deciding factor in the general election as well.

For the next month, the Obama campaign's ground focus is on finishing up the stunning gains in voter registration that it and the Democratic Party have made. Since January alone more than 3.5 million new voters have been registered in 17 of the 23 states tracked closely by the Obama campaign where information is available. Three states — Florida, Michigan and North Carolina — have seen increases of more than 400,000 new voters, and 10 more states have recorded new registrations of more than 100,000. Though these numbers include registrants to all parties, in 14 of the states at least half of the new voters are under 35, a key demographic for Obama.

"We're on pace to hit goal," says Jason Green, a 27-year-old Gaithersburg, Md., native who is Obama's national voter registration director. "I would love to exceed goal." Green, not surprisingly, isn't in the mood to get specific about what that goal is, though he does say that it is "in the millions," and that the bulk of the voters will be in the 18 battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico (though drives have been mounted in all 50 states). Green is also happy to share the news that they registered more than 100,000 people over Labor Day weekend, capitalizing on the wave of excitement coming out of the convention in Denver.

Given their history as the pioneers of grass-roots get-out-the-vote efforts, Republicans claim not to be particularly impressed by the Obama operation, including its estimated army of 8 million volunteers. "I get a kick out of them talking about organizing and ground-game, get-out-the-vote programs. I'm glad they joined the 21st century for voter contact," says Rich Beeson, political director for the Republican National Committee (RNC), which is running the bulk of John McCain's ground game. "They're talking about things that have been done on our side for years now — team leaders, house parties, precinct captains."

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