Richard Upchurch was just walking down the street when he noticed something across the road that gained his attention. From a distance, it probably looked like a lemonade stand. But when he made it across traffic, what he found was a Barack Obama volunteer signing people up for voter registration.
He immediately asked for a pen.
“I’m voting for the first time,” the 58-year-old retiree said.
Eager to get Upchurch’s name down as another registrant was Gwendolyn McMillan Bell. The Obama volunteer set up one of the campaign’s drive-through voter registration stands at the Ralph Ellison Library on N.E. 23rd Street near Martin Luther King Boulevard. Within a 30-minute period around lunch, Bell had more than a dozen folks walk up, drive by, pull up and sign up.
“It started out a little slow this morning as I only had about five sign up,” Bell said. “But it’s starting to pick up.”
The library stand was not the only one registering voters and Bell is not the only worker for the Obama campaign in Oklahoma. Flush with cash since the primary days, the Obama camp has canvassed every state looking for new voters. Even in the reddest of red states like Oklahoma, Obama offices can be found.
Most people can’t remember the last time a presidential candidate set up shop in Oklahoma during the fall election season. And for the office to belong to a Democrat with no chance of winning the Sooner State, using campaign funds to rent office space, pay utility bills and send in salaried staffers seems a bit unreal. But over at 4100 N. Lincoln, that’s exactly what you will find. In fact, the Obama camp has established two more offices in Oklahoma: a volunteer call center on N.W. 13th near Broadway and an Oklahoma headquarters in Tulsa.
“The idea is to get as many Democratic votes as possible for (Andrew) Rice, (Jim) Roth and other state House and Senate seats,” said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Ivan Holmes. “(Obama) believes as Chairman (Howard) Dean and I do that the future of the Democratic Party is in the grassroots.”
On a statewide basis, it doesn’t appear Oklahoma will follow the Democratic wave as other states have. According to figures from the Oklahoma State Election Board, Republicans have registered more voters than Democrats since the beginning of the year.
But in the areas where Obama has set up shop, Democrats have made impressive gains, none more obvious than Oklahoma County. In January, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 7,000. When new figures were released after the registration deadline of Oct. 10, Democrats were shown to control Oklahoma County by 183 voters.
“I think that’s pretty dramatic,” said Michael Clingman, secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board.
18,000 NEW REGISTERED VOTERS
The figures show an overall gain of nearly 18,000 new registered voters for the Democrats compared to just less than 11,000 for the Republicans. The total numbers have 179,222 registered Democrats and 179,039 registered Republicans in Oklahoma County. A total of 54,971 independents are registered in Oklahoma County.
But Clingman isn’t sure how much the Obama factor weighs in on the new numbers.
“I really doubt it’s as much of a voter registration drive as it is a shift in demographics,” Clingman said. “It does look like, without doing a political science study, as voters move out of Oklahoma City into the suburbs, they are being replaced with slightly more Democratic voters.”
Clingman pointed out the GOP has even bigger leads in suburban counties like Cleveland and Canadian. Republicans have taken the lead in Rogers County outside Tulsa.
But just like Oklahoma City, the urban terrain of Tulsa also saw a shift toward Democrats where more than 12,000 residents signed up since January for the donkey compared to less than 10,000 for elephants.
John McCain’s regional office in Denver said the Oklahoma campaign is being handled from Colorado. “Scott Cooper