U.S. Parties Locking Horns Over the Russia Vote

MTReed, left, of the Democrats and Malloy of the Republicans chatting in the office building they both work at last week.
In 2000, U.S. President George W. Bush won the White House with 537 votes; in 2002, Maria Cantwell beat Senator Slade Gorton by 2,229 votes; and two years later, John Thune won a Senate seat in South Dakota with 4,508 votes -- all proof that "every vote counts."

Every vote, apparently, except the Russia vote.

While both parties have outposts in Moscow, neither has enough registered activists to have tipped the balance in any recent nail-biters, with Republicans Abroad touting 75 members on its mailing list and Democrats Abroad reporting the same.

Representatives from both parties insist they're plowing ahead with get-out-the-vote campaigns, voter rallies and other political fare typical of election season in the United States in advance of the November midterm elections.

But it looks mathematically inconceivable -- with Russia-based voters casting ballots in 212 House districts and 50 states -- that anything any partisan does in Moscow will have any impact on the balance of power in Washington.

Still, the political firebrands in Moscow remain undeterred -- by the relatively paltry pool of Americans or by the fact that just 22 percent of civilian voters, according to the Pentagon, cast ballots in a recent presidential race.

As Republicans Abroad Russia chairman Michael Malloy explained, working the Russia vote is "how I earn my right to democracy. I do it because it's the right thing to do."

Malloy's Democratic counterpart, Kimberly Reed, was equally religious about her politicking. "It's what you do," Reed said. "It's not really a choice."

Reed, flanked by pictures of herself working in the White House under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, noted that her forebears included Confederate General Robert E. Lee and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. She recalled watching the Watergate hearings on television with her grandmother when she was 6.

Indeed, the Democrats take their overseas campaigning very, very seriously. Reed, for instance, was admonished by headquarters for forwarding information about how many people belonged to her group.

Democrats Abroad's Britain-based spokeswoman Sharon Manitta explained that Republicans, armed with Democratic data, would inflate their numbers to make the Democrats look puny.

Both Malloy and Reed are lawyers, and both spend roughly 10 hours per week -- or a few thousand dollars in billing fees -- trying to pump up voters in Russia. As the elections near and the races tighten, that figure will go up.

For now, the power brokers inside the Washington beltway aren't paying much attention.

No one at the Democratic or Republican campaign committees, which are charged with getting their candidates elected to the House and Senate, sounded aware there were any voters worth courting in Russia. Certainly, none of the candidates are going to jump on a 10-hour flight from Washington or New York for a coffee klatsch on Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Gary King, a professor of government at Harvard University, thinks this may be giving Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad short shrift.

King pointed out that improper handling of absentee ballots accounted for about half of Bush's margin of victory in Florida, the state that handed him the presidency.

But he acknowledged that the likelihood of the Russia vote having much, if any, effect on any congressional races was slim. "Most elections aren't decided by just a few votes," he said.

Indeed, the large majority of races will draw hundreds of thousands of voters and be determined by margins in the tens of thousands. Even close races in battleground states such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida will be decided by several thousand voters.

But Malloy and Reed soldier on, determined to scrape together just enough votes to shore up, say, Republican Senator Rick Santorum's campaign in Pennsylvania or that of Representative Harold Ford in Tennessee.

"I don't want to be the monopolist of Republicanism in Moscow," said Malloy, who splits his time between work, playing bass in a three-man band and stumping for the cause. In a recent e-mail to Republicans, he sought to boost morale by slamming a children's book titled "Why Mommy is a Democrat."

Reed, sounding like she might have been taking her cues from speaking points issued by the Democratic National Committee, said: "We have to exercise our vote. We have to take responsibility for our government."