New York Times
March 16, 2008
By LESLIE WAYNE
LONDON — They call themselves residents of the “51st State,” which is a broad territory that covers all continents, counts around six million Americans and displays a passionate interest in the Democratic match-up between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Democrats Abroad, a branch of the Democratic Party with members in over 100 countries, is in the middle of the same race for delegates and heated debates over who should be the party’s nominee as Democrats in the
And with 11 delegate votes that will be under its control at the party’s convention, Democrats Abroad is more than a debating society. It is an increasingly vibrant wing of the Democratic Party, particularly as more Americans fan out across the globe yet seek to maintain their voice in the politics back home.
“Years ago, we were just a small group of people in London and Paris,” said William D. Barnard, chairman of Democrats Abroad U.K. “When we held a primary, it meant that everyone met in a pub or a bar and cast a vote. Now, it’s incredible. With the historic nature of the campaigns and the closeness of it, we’ve changed the way we operate.”
Democrats Abroad was started in 1964 and gained voting delegates to the party’s convention in 1976. But as recently as 2004, overseas voting in the primaries took place in caucuses, where Democrats had to show up in person — difficult for such a far-flung group.
This year, the Democratic National Committee held its first ever “Global Democratic Primary,” where Democrats could vote in person, by mail, by fax and, unlike in the
And vote they did: A total of 22,715 Democrats in 164 countries cast their ballots in a primary planned to coincide with the coast-to-coast nominating contests on Feb. 5.
Senator Obama, of
Primary votes came from as far away as
This weekend, Democrats from 30 countries will meet in
“A lot of people would have voted in the past, but the party did not reach out to them,” said Karin Robinson, who heads the Obama effort in
A parallel group, Republicans Abroad, is not affiliated with the Republican Party and has no representatives or votes at the party’s convention. The Republican Party does not offer primary voting overseas and instead encourages party members to vote by absentee ballot.
For their part, Democrats Abroad say they could play a crucial role in the general election, when all overseas voting is done by absentee ballot. Around 330,000 overseas ballots were cast in the 2006 election, according to the United States Election Assistance Commission.
A Web site — www.votefromabroad.org — was set up by the Democratic Party to help potential voters with navigating the registration and absentee ballot processes. The idea behind the site, besides making absentee voting easier, is to break what many Democrats overseas say is a “myth” that their absentee votes do not count.
Overseas Democrats say their votes can make the difference in highly competitive races. They point out that in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush credited his victory in
“Overseas votes can make a difference,” said Margo Miller, co-chairwoman of Americans Abroad for Hillary Clinton. “If you look at victories in some of the close races in 2006, votes from abroad had something to do with it.”
Traditionally, Americans abroad have often been looked at as a quick source of campaign cash. That tradition has continued, as both Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton flew to
But even more, the campaigns are taking advantage of this new international enthusiasm by trolling for votes. Overseas Democrats say that they have seen firsthand the effects of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy and, for that reason, are highly motivated to capture the White House.
From “Meet-ups in Mumbai” to “speakeasies” at restaurants and pubs around the globe, Democrats have come up with ways to talk politics and socialize. In
The Obama campaign has focused on overseas fund-raising — and the fact that a sinking dollar makes donations seem relatively cheap. In addition, the campaign has organized international conference calls with key staff members to connect overseas voters with key players during the
At American sporting events — for instance, when the National Football League and the National Hockey League played overseas exhibition games — the Obama campaign sent out volunteers with clipboards to find supporters.
Democrats say they are so energized by the race this year that the feeling can be quite contagious — even to their foreign friends.
“The saddest letters that I have to write,” said Mr. Barnard, the head of Democrats Abroad