Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dems Learn From GOP

SANTA FE More than a third of New Mexico’s votes are likely to have been cast by election day, according to officials. Not only are Republicans pushing early voting, Democrats are trying to get into the act this year.
After an intensive voter registration drive that netted them nearly 50,000 new voters, Democrats want to be sure those people don’t disappear, so they are helping them obtain absentee ballots and are carting them to early polling places.
Ever since the late 1980s, Republicans have enjoyed a tremendous early voting advantage. Especially in Albuquerque, Republican candidates often will lose at the polls on election day. But once the absentee ballots are counted, they win by comfortable margins.
In 2000, George W. Bush had a 9,600-vote edge over Al Gore in early and absentee voting in Bernalillo County, but lost the county by 4,212 votes. In statewide figures, Bush won by more than 27,000 votes, but lost the race by 366 votes.
Actually, the number of votes already in may be much more than a third of the final total. In 2002, 44 percent of the statewide ballots were cast early. In Bernalillo County, the figure was 60 percent.
No wonder the Bernalillo County clerk has so much trouble getting absentee votes counted. And the state Legislature still hasn’t provided any relief in terms of allowing at least the outer envelope to be opened prior to election day.
Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell says Democrat efforts since the late 1990s have been chipping away at the GOP edge in early voting. If Adair is right, and he’s an expert on such things, it appears the early vote will be even larger this year.
Most of the new voters are young – 56 percent are younger than 35. And almost a third didn’t choose a party. That could change some traditional voting patterns. Medicare and Social Security may not be such big issues this time, giving way to the war, in which young people are very interested. Democrats are hoping the 31 percent of the 110,000 new voters will join the 43 percent who registered Democrat to form some big majorities.
A big chunk of the New Mexico voter registration campaign this year was conducted by Gov. Bill Richardson’s Moving America Forward political committee. He reported paying $350,000 to a company to help with voter registration drives in New Mexico and Colorado. Much of the receipts for Richardson’s political committee also come from Colorado, including $250,000 from Denver entrepreneur Rutt Bridges.
Richardson’s Moving America Forward is not to be confused with, which has been producing some of the harder hitting TV ads aimed at President Bush. The governor’s political committee is mainly dedicated to registering Hispanic voters in swing states.
Political analysts agree that vicious political ads have been around since the early days of television, but this year are in a class of their own. The main reason is that the 2002 campaign reform law, known as McCain-Feingold, cracked down on campaign contributions to political parties and individual candidates.
The result was a diversion of large amounts of money to groups, known as 527s, after the section of U.S. law that makes them tax exempt and allows them to accept unlimited contributions. 527s have existed for decades, but since they are required to be independent from candidates, they have been the perfect vehicle for all the money freed up by “campaign reform.”
Of course, these groups are not independent, but if their relationships to the two political parties are sufficiently blurred, they can do the dirty work of the campaigns without it being blamed on the parties.
As for ads by the parties, political analysts say Republicans have been doing a vastly better job at legally maneuvering through election laws to avoid the limitations imposed on parties and presidential candidates.
As with turning out absentee votes, Democrats are finally awakening and taking notes.


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