Presidential Campaigns Target New Citizen Voters

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In downtown Oakland, Calif., the Alameda County Republican Party has been erecting folding tables bedecked with American flags and voter registration forms in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and English outside naturalization ceremonies at the Paramount Theater.

"We want to be in places where we are reaching the minorities or ethnic blocs," said Sue Caro, the local GOP chairwoman.

The success rate for Republicans in this traditionally Democratic stronghold is unclear — Caro noted sometimes new citizens pose with the party's cardboard cutouts of Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan, then walk down the sidewalk to the Democratic Party's table and take family photos with likenesses of Michelle and Barack Obama.

In Florida, the Obama campaign for months has sent volunteers to the conference halls where the federal government holds its citizenship ceremonies, and has been seeking out new citizens willing to host house parties.

"Our campaign is about inclusiveness and to that end we encourage all citizens, including our newest citizens, to get involved in the democratic process," Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said.

To be sure, campaigns and parties say courting undecided new citizens is just one element of the numbers game, which ultimately will turn on how many people show up to vote. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said new Americans represent a piece of the GOP's registration program, but their turnout efforts are focused on registered voters because they more reliably go to the polls.

California is considered a sure bet for Obama, but there are an unusually large number of competitive U.S. House seats. Republican and Democratic Party officials say new citizens could boost their turnout, and both sides are targeting them.

Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor whose father came to the U.S. from Mexico, is locked in a fierce campaign against longtime Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in a new Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo district that has a voter registration edge for Democrats of just 3 percentage points.

Maldonado, a wealthy farmer, said he has been talking to new citizens at house meetings in the agricultural region of his district.

"I think they're very proud to see that someone can come here to this country of ours poor, and work hard, save, plan, pay taxes and see their son eventually become lieutenant governor," he said.

Eight-term incumbent Capps said her voting record reflected her strong alliance with Hispanics and said as a former school nurse she understands immigrant families' challenges.

In Virginia, immigrants from India make up a substantial portion of the newest citizens.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American, has campaigned for Romney multiple times in northern Virginia, where a sizable Indian population has settled. Obama made a campaign stop at a high school in Leesburg in August, and on Friday went to Sterling, the same town Haley addressed.

"That part of Virginia that is home to a lot of striving recent arrivals," said Farnsworth. "And for the parties it represents time and money very well spent to approach new voters, because as close as the polls tell us this race will be, that last 3 percent may be the percent that makes the difference."

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