Echoing 2008, Obama campaign’s ‘Project Vote’ also brings back 1993 memories

C.J. Ciaramella | Contributor

Hoping to recapture some of the president’s 2008 magic, Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign announced on Thursday a new campaign push, called Project Vote, intended to expand get-out-the vote efforts among minority groups and other core Democratic constituencies.

The Obama campaign said Thursday that Project Vote will aim to increase voter registration and turnout among those who have not voted at high rates in the past, or who have recently moved to a new state.

The campaign said in a statement: “Project Vote will drive our campaign strategy — from paid media, to digital outreach, to grassroots organizing and voter registration efforts — to communicate with and engage key demographic groups, such as African Americans, Women, Youth, Latinos, LGBT, Veterans, Asian Americans and others.”

“Project Vote will communicate with and engage targeted constituencies by reaching them where they are, in their communities and neighborhoods, and having one-on-one grassroots conversations about the issues they care about most – jobs, health care and education.  Project Vote will embark on a voter registration effort to maximize voter participation,” the statement continued.

The effort will be led by Buffy Wicks and Michael Blake, both from the White House Office of Public Engagement. Wicks is that agency’s deputy director.

According to Obama’s campaign, the political team will be “responsible for the campaign’s communication and collaboration with elected officials, party leaders, labor, and community organizations at the national, state, and local level.” (RELATED: White House jobs council under fire from union head)

The name also holds special significance for President Obama. He worked for an organization called Project VOTE! after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, turning down a Supreme Court clerkship to run the organization’s Chicago chapter before the 1992 election.

With Obama at the helm, Chicago added 150,000 new black voters to the city’s rolls, and — for the first time in Chicago’s history — voter registrations in the 19 predominantly black wards outnumbered those in the city’s 19 predominantly white wards.

A Chicago Magazine article from 1993 said Obama’s success “has marked him as the political star the Mayor should perhaps be watching for.”

The president is no doubt looking to emulate his 1993 performance on a national scale, and he will need to do so to repeat his 2008 numbers.

Obama’s approval rating among black voters dipped 10 percent from January to June, according to a July Pew poll. In the same poll, the president’s approval among 18-29 year olds was 55 percent against 37 percent disapproval, down from the 30-point spread he previously commanded. And anecdotal evidence suggests the youth demographic is far less excited about Obama’s re-election campaign than it was three years ago.

Since the 2008 election, economic woes and general dissatisfaction have cost Obama much of his public approval, and Republicans have made inroads among many different voting demographics. In 2010 — an election cycle dominated by the economy, rather than by social issues — Republicans picked up 31 percent of the gay vote. That’s an uptick from 23 percent in 2004.

Project Vote also happens to be name of a third national nonprofit organization — not to be confused with the now-defunct Project VOTE! which employed a young Barack Obama. That other “Project Vote” also works to register low-income and marginalized voters. Its communications director, Michael McDunnah, told The Daily Caller that the Obama campaign’s announcement came as a surprise.

“We’re always happy to see campaigns take an interest in voter registration, and we wish them good luck in their efforts, but Project Vote has been conducting voter registration activities under this name since 1997, and we do hold the trademark on ‘Project Vote’ for purposes related to voter participation,” McDunnah said.

In a press release, Project Vote said its attorneys have contacted the Obama campaign and have “been assured that this matter will be resolved quickly and amicably.”

That same organization has often coordinated voter registration campaigns with chapters of the now-defunct ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN, which is also now defunct, was embroiled in a nationwide scandal after employees were caught on hidden cameras advising conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe how to hide prostitution activities and avoid taxes.

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