By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama's campaign rallies in battleground states aren't just about winning hearts and minds. They're also about something more practical — courting voters and volunteers.
For more than a year, Obama has used appearances that draw thousands of people to focus on the nuts and bolts of campaigning. That means registering new voters and getting them to the polls — and persuading them to tell others to do the same.
That effort was supposed to have reached a pinnacle Thursday with Obama accepting his party's presidential nomination before a crowd of 74,000 at an outdoor stadium near the Democratic convention site. It would have been by far his biggest crowd of this campaign as the president seeks to build a massive get-out-the-vote operation ahead of the Nov. 6 election. But warnings of severe weather forced Obama to scrap those plans.
Instead, he will speak to a crowd of mostly delegates and the media in the much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena. And, tied to his address, his campaign will step up its get-out-the-vote efforts in battleground states.
From Nevada to Virginia to Florida, Obama and fellow Democrats have consistently been outspent on the airwaves by Mitt Romney and his GOP allies. So Obama has been trying to leverage a longstanding edge in people power — volunteers and neighborhood-by-neighborhood advocates who formed the base of a grass-roots organization that carried him to victory in 2008. He has sought to keep that group active since then and build upon it by collecting a trove of voter data, including email addresses and cellphone numbers.
"We might be outspent in this election, but we are absolutely not going to be out-organized," Jen O'Malley-Dillon, Obama's deputy campaign manager, told the Iowa delegation this week.
Four years ago, Obama was able to win partly because he had both the financial and the organizational advantage.
But, mindful of the possibility that Republicans could outspend him, Obama has redoubled his efforts to motivate supporters and persuade others to come together to form the foundation of his campaign.
In recent weeks, Obama has visited several college towns, including Ames, Iowa, Fort Collins, Colo., and Charlottesville, Va., in an effort to register students in their college dorms as they were returning to school.
"Take out your cellphone, put it in the air," ordered Sarah Andrews, a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the moments before Obama took the stage at a rally Sunday. Andrews, a campaign volunteer, instructed her classmates to text the word "vote" to 62262 for voting details and other information. "We need to organize door by door, dorm room by dorm room, community by community."
Obama, who was a community organizer who led a voter registration drive in Chicago in 1992, has been making specific appeals lately to supporters at rallies.
In Urbandale, Iowa, on Saturday, Obama urged supporters to go to www.GottaRegister.com to ensure they were registered to vote.
"It's not "got to," it is "gotta" — g-o-t-t-a register.com," Obama said.
He capped his pitch by reminding Iowans that early voting begins in the state Sept. 27.
"In Iowa, you don't have to wait until Nov. 6 to vote," he said. "I'm counting on you. And I need your help."
As he accepts the nomination Thursday, the campaign plans to host several thousand viewing parties, asking volunteers in battleground states and those that border them to bring along people who haven't been involved in the campaign or remain uncertain about supporting Obama. Many of the watch parties will be preceded by door-to-door neighborhood canvassing of voters and staffing phone banks aimed at drumming up support for Obama's re-election. The campaign also plans to conduct college-campus voter registration drives tied to Thursday's speech.
In the Denver suburbs, volunteers will walk door to door to spread Obama's message in the hours before the president takes the stage and then gather at homes to watch the speech in small groups.
Obama loyalists also planned to watch the speech in Google hangouts and in places like the Park Road Bar and Grill in Painesville, Ohio, outside Cleveland, the Horizon Bay retirement home in Tamarac, Fla., and Buzz BBQ in Las Vegas.
The president's speech will be streamed online, where the campaign will push voter registration. Supporters will use social media to remind their friends to watch Obama's address, posting appeals on behalf of the president in Facebook status lines and in their Twitter feeds. The campaign will encourage supporters to send text messages in order to receive voting information or ask for donations by text.
Both Obama and Romney are accepting small-dollar contributions, with the charges appearing on the user's phone bill. Supporters can give a maximum of $200 via text per election cycle.
This week, the campaign also tried to make the most of Tuesday's keynote speech by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, holding watch parties in Latino households and streaming the speech online in Spanish as a way to attract more attention in states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida, where success could hinge on the support of Latino voters. Obama's speech will be streamed online in Spanish as well.
In North Carolina, which Obama carried by fewer than 14,000 votes in 2008, Democrats hope to use the convention site as a catalyst for the fall. Democrats have added about 40,000 voters since January, but the big gains in the state have been among unaffiliated voters, which have grown by more than 100,000 this year, according to records maintained by the North Carolina Board of Elections. Democrats hold an advantage of about 750,000 registered voters over Republicans, but many Democrats are conservative ticket-splitters who back Republicans in presidential races.
Obama used his convention in a similar fashion in 2008, when his campaign registered voters in Colorado and urged tens of thousands of supporters at Denver's Invesco Field to send a text message to the campaign to receive more information. In Colorado, the party added more than 175,000 registered Democrats to the state's voting rolls between January 2008 and Election Day.
Obama easily carried Colorado against John McCain in 2008.
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