Monday marked the voter registration deadline for the April 22 Pennsylvania presidential primary. The state holds a "closed" primary, meaning that voters must be registered as members of a particular party before they can vote for one of the party's candidates. As we noted in an earlier post, in the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Obama campaign made a huge, statewide effort to persuade independent and Republican voters to register as Democrats.
Though the official number of newly registered Democrats will not be known for about a week, today various media outlets are already reporting on the huge upsurge in Pennsylvania's registered Democrats. Time reports that "so far [Democratic] registration has swelled 84,801 since the 2006 elections -- that's 11 percent of the 790,000 people who voted in the 2004 Democratic primary," and with more than 50,000 people registering as Democrats in just the last week, now, for the first time in the state's history, there are more than 4 million registered Democrats.
What's especially astonishing about these numbers is the large number of Republican conversions: 86,711 Republicans and independents have switched their party affiliation since the start of 2008. Brett Lieberman of the Patriot-News writes that the Republican Party has lost 30,000 voters in the state since last November.
Until the primary occurs (and perhaps not even then), no one will know for sure if the rise in registered Democrats was a result of the Obama campaign's efforts or just a part of the increased voter participation witnessed across the nation during this primary season. However, not everyone is interpreting these statistics as a boon for the Democrats. In a story for ABC News, Keith Staskeiwicz advances a more conspiratorial theory about the newly registered Democrats. Staskeiwicz writes, "While many of the new Democrats appear to be moderates or independents who simply want to be a part of the process, county voter registration officials in central Pennsylvania told ABCNews.com that many new registrants spoke openly about changing their party affiliation to give McCain 'a better shot in November.'" Staskeiwicz relies on reports from "officials in Perry and Northumberland counties in central Pennsylvania" to support his claim that Republican voters are heeding the advice of Rush Limbaugh to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to prolong the Democratic primary process as long as possible.