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Expat Democrats Set to Celebrate, Try to Mobilize Voters in US

Americans living in Germany have gotten more involved than ever before in the US election -- at least if they’re Democrats. But the hard work doesn’t necessarily mean that expat Dems will be partying.

A woman at an election night party in Berlin

Many Americans stayed up until the early hours to see who would win the US election

With Barack Obama leading all the major pre-election polls, the Berlin chapter of Democrats Abroad is taking over a large movie theater in the city center to stage what they hope will be a historic victory bash.

"We've sent in our ballots already and done all we can do," Michael Steltzer, chairman of Democrats Abroad, Berlin, told DW-WORLD.DE. "Now we want to party."

The Obama campaign has put unprecedented emphasis on expatriate voters, giving Democrats living outside the US ample opportunities have their say in the course of the election.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, shakes hands with supporters after speaking at the Victory Column in Berlin

Obama revved up supporters in Berlin when he visited the German capital this summer

Obama '08 has a professional Central European office, and volunteers have been calling all over the continent to ensure that Democrats applied for absentee ballots and cast them in time to be counted. Membership in Berlin chapter of Democrats Abroad has doubled in the past year, and old and new recruits are equally enthusiastic.

Mindful of their disappointment in 2000 and 2004, they've even been calling voters in swing states in the US. The phone numbers are provided by the Obama campaign.

"The treasurer of our organization told me the experience was really heartening," Steltzer said. "He called up 15 people in Florida, and of the ones he reached, 12 said they had already voted for Obama -- and only one for McCain."

The expat initiative is an experiment. No one knows whether it will yield more votes for Obama. But it has given Democrats outside the US a common sense of purpose.

All in the family

Early voters wait to cast their ballots

Early voting and participation are expected to hit record levels

As is true for expat Americans in general, Democrats living abroad are a diverse group with varying concerns and motivations. But one family story perhaps illustrates the Obama campaign's efforts to bring their supporters together.

Karen Axelrad is an architect in her early 60s who's lived in Berlin for 35 years. She joined Democrats Abroad in 2004 because she was upset with the Iraq War and volunteers her time to do graphics for the organization.

She said this time around the ante has been upped.

"The whole campaign is entirely different," Axelrad said. "In 2004, there wasn't much organization from Washington, but this year groups around the world took part in a global primary, and there's a paid staffer outside the US."

One person Axelrad was able to win over was her son, Florian Schiedhelm.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sheds tears as he talks about his grandmother

Family sorrow -- Obama's grandmother died one day before the election

Schiedhelm grew up in Berlin and recently returned to the German capital after five years of university in the United States. His environmentalist convictions initially led him to support Hillary Clinton, but now he's been volunteering at the phone banks for Obama.

"At first I wasn't so sure about Barack Obama," Schiedhelm said. "But I've gotten a lot of positive feedback, calling people all over Europe."

Schiedhelm also said that this election, for him, has been different.

"There all this new media going on," he said. "People can get out their opinions without the big media and corporations distorting it -- which is what the American media do best."

Lonely Republicans

Republic campaign buttons featuring McCain and Palin

McCain and Palin haven't pushed the right buttons with ex-pat voters

Whereas Democrats Abroad is an officially recognized party organization, with votes allocated at the Democratic national convention in Denver, Republicans Abroad is a Leipzig-based club with no institutional connection to the McCain campaign.

Thus, supporters of John McCain in Germany have found it much more difficult to get involved.

Heather DeLisle -- a conservative and freelance journalist who appears as a presenter on DW-TV -- blames a lack of effort by expat Republicans.

"I don't see them doing anything at all," DeLisle said. "I've hard trouble finding another Republican anywhere in the country -- beside my father, that is."

A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain cheers during a midnight rally

McCain's campaign has focussed squarely on Americans living in the US

Being relatively isolated does have some advantages, though. The dearth of American conservatives in Germany has meant that DeLisle, who grew up in Berlin, has been busy appearing on political chat shows, trying to explain to Germans why some Americans prefer McCain to Obama.

Still, DeLisle doesn't think much of Republicans Abroad.

"They're old-school Republicans who don't appeal to young people, and to young women especially," she said.

The chairman of Republicans Abroad, Germany did not response to an e-mail request for an interview.

Divergent styles

A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens to his speech at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh

It's going to be a long night for supporters of both candidates

A glance at the respective Web sites of Democrats and Republican Abroad, Germany further illustrates their differences.

The Democratic site features an electoral college scorecard and promises a party throughout the night with live streams, DJs and a sunrise breakfast buffet. The Republican page has a quote from President Bush and a picture of Ronald Reagan.

But there's no guarantee that being more dynamic, tech-savvy and better organized abroad can help Obama win the presidential election.

Expat Republicans like Delisle insist that US voters will defy public opinion surveys and narrowly elect McCain. The mood among expat Democrats is positive, but edgy -- with  many expressing a similar skepticism about the accuracy of the polls.

So the Democratic party in Berlin could still see Obama supporters crying in their beers. But if they do end up in tears, they can console themselves with the thought that they did everything they could.

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