Area Democrats are stepping up efforts to compete more forcefully with Southeast Missouri Republicans in state and federal races with the opening of a new Obama for President headquarters in Cape Girardeau and by landing the state convention for the party's women's clubs this weekend.
The Obama headquarters, at 821-D Broadway, will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and staffed mainly by volunteers, said Menno Goedman, the regional field director for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign in Southeast Missouri.
Local organizers of the Obama effort have been in the field for the past two weeks signing up new voters, and opening the headquarters will help improve efforts to organize in the area, Goedman said.
"Right now we are still figuring out the fundamentals of staffing," Goedman said.
Many of the volunteers will be college-age "Obama fellows," people who agree to work for six weeks to take part in the campaign, he said.
The Missouri Federation of Women's Democratic Clubs will hold its state convention at the Bavarian Halle, 225 Drury Lane, near Fruitland. The convention will include workshops on organizing and campaign finance laws as well as hospitality suites for members during the day. A Saturday evening banquet will include a keynote address from state Democratic Party chairman John Temporiti, a St. Louis lawyer.
The convention will bring leaders of Democratic women's groups from across the state to the area, said Theresa Saunders-Klusch, president of the statewide group. Saunders-Klusch said she sees a growing enthusiasm for the state Democratic ticket, which will likely be led by Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is running for governor.
"I think we have a good chance, and the theme of our convention is 'Turning Missouri Blue,'" she said.
The Obama effort had relied on local organizers until the Illinois Democrat clinched his party's nomination for president ealier this month. Jerome Hulehan, co-chairman of Obama for President in Cape Girardeau County, said the voter registration drive has included an information table at West Park Mall.
Obama's visit to Cape Girardeau about a month ago has helped energize local supporters, Hulehan said. "Since Obama came to town it has just been unbelievable," he said. "So much is happening I just can't keep up with it."
Missouri's statewide vote in hotly contested presidential elections is generally close. The state's voters have sided with the winner in all but one presidential election since 1904. Southeast Missouri, once reliably Democratic except for Cape Girardeau, has tilted Republican in statewide and federal races since the 1970s.
Reversing that trend will be difficult, Hulehan acknowledged, but the first step is a strong organization.
More than 60 people have taken part in meetings of the local Obama for President effort, Hulehan said.
Goedman said he expects a permanent staff member to be named to operate the Cape Girardeau office within a few weeks. The professional staff will work to enhance, rather than replace, the volunteer effort, he said.
"Really, we are just getting underway here," he said. "It really so far has been a self-organized effort, and we are excited to build on that."
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