In 2008, Barack Obama's energized presidential campaign turned out about 15 million voters who went to the polls for the first time. But these first-time voters -- many young, female, minority and independent -- will need special attention from President Obama to get them to cast a ballot again in this November's midterm contests.
The Democratic National Committee on Monday launched a drive to prevent these new voters from joining the ranks of what political analysts call "drop off" or "fall off" voters: people who show up only in presidential years.
The 2010 turnout campaign will serve to rally the troops for a Democratic Congress and down-ticket races with two byproducts: If the DNC can rekindle the Obama '08 spark, it will provide helpful political muscle to congressional Democrats at risk for supporting the Obama agenda and will keep the rank and file mobilized for Obama's 2012 re-election bid.
The kickoff came Monday in a Web video message from Obama. In the video, the president mentioned a first-time voter from Phoenix, real estate agent Claudia Schulz, then made a special pitch to "young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women," which prompted radio host Rush Limbaugh to accuse Obama of playing a race card.
In the video, Obama said: "This year, we're going to reconnect with voters like Claudia Schulz. At 29 years old, Claudia had never been involved in the political process because she didn't think one person could make a difference. But in 2008, Claudia joined millions of other supporters like you and made her first-ever trip to the polls.
"In 2010, it will be up to each of you to ask folks like Claudia to stay involved -- and to explain why this year, the stakes are higher than ever.
"It will be up to each of you to make sure that the young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women, who powered our victory in 2008, stand together once again."
Underscoring this November get-out-the-vote message will be a DNC $50 million war chest -- cash and services channeled to state parties, coordinated campaigns and the Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial political operations: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Governors Association. The money will be used for voter modeling, outreach, and technical and new media support.
The Obama for America presidential campaign was successful for many reasons, including finding many new voters and developing valuable lists -- including e-mails -- to keep in touch with them.
After the election, the Obama team took control of the DNC (that's routine, the president -- no matter GOP or Democrat -- runs the national party committee) and absorbed Obama for America, which morphed into Organizing for America. The DNC has one of the most important voter contact tools in the nation: Obama's list.
"Through Organizing for America, over the last year and half, we've worked to make the millions of Americans who entered the political process in 2008 permanent participants in their government," DNC national press secretary Hari Sevugan told Politics Daily. "These voters have a unique relationship with the president, as we've seen in the enthusiasm for OFA, they understand that they have a stake in the president's agenda for change.
"The details will be announced in the coming days, but we're going to use both tools we've used in the past and new innovations to ensure that these surge voters remain engaged and send partners for change to Washington this fall."
Limbaugh, on his Monday show, castigated Obama for targeting voter groups. "This is the regime at its racist best . . . He is asking young people, African-Americans, Latino and women to reconnect, to fight who? Who is this fight against?" Limbaugh said.
On MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews," DNC Chairman Tim Kaine said of Limbaugh, "The guy is an entertainer; he is trying to get a headline."
Kaine added, "That kind of comment about the president is not to be taken seriously. What the president said in the video is our plan, Chris, in the midterm, we have to energize voters across the spectrum, but we are focused very heavily on the first- time voters from 2008, and we just know who they are. There are about 15 million people that registered, and we were part of registering them for the first time in 2008 and it is an electorate in that group of 15 million that are heavily young, heavily new Americans and minority voters and women."
Voter turnout studies show that there is voter falloff in a non-presidential year.
Kaine said, "So our goal is to make sure that the participation in a midterm election does not fall off so dramatically and instead stays high in support of candidates who support the presidential agenda."