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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Plays the Felon Card

The determination of Republicans to get racially-inflected themes embedded in the minds of voters in the home stretch of this presidential campaign is truly impressive. The latest example is the noise being made by the McCain campaign about Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s restoration of voting rights to a small number of non-violent felons.
Here’s the Washington Post‘s report on the saga:

On Thursday, the McCain campaign accused Kaine (D), a co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, of restoring voting rights for almost 1,500 felons in an effort to help Obama win Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.
“This is a question of judgment,” said Trey Walker, McCain’s mid-Atlantic regional campaign manager. “Senator Obama and Governor Kaine have assembled a felonious coalition of attempted murderers, kidnappers, rapists, armed robbers and wife beaters in order to win Virginia. This dangerous lack of judgment has no place in the White House.”

The lies here are pretty amazing by any standard. Virginia actually has the strictest standards in the nation for restoration of voting rights by non-violent felons; it’s one of just two states (the other is Kentucky) that permanently disenfranchise all felons, violent or non-violent, with action by the governor being necessary to restore rights. And note the word “non-violent” in terms of Kaine’s actions: Virginia isn’t restoring rights for “attempted murderers, kidnappers, rapists, armed robbers and wife beaters,” as McCain’s flack knows full well.
On top of everything else, all Kaine is doing is restoring the right to register to vote. Some may not exercise it, and there’s no guarantee all of them would vote for Barack Obama. If this was somehow a big part of the Obama effort in Virginia, it would obviously be a whole lot bigger, since as much as one-quarter of the state’s African-American men suffer from permanent disenfranchisement. There’s no question that a sizable percentage of these men would be automatically entitled to vote if they lived in virtually any other state. And in one state–Republican-governed Florida–that like Virginia, requires an application to the Governor, 123,000 non-violent felons have had their voting rights restored since April of last year. By my calculation, that’s about 83 times the number of restorations in Virginia this year.
The fishiest thing about this “story” is why it’s coming up in the final phases of the presidential campaign. The Washington Times published an inflammatory article on this subject three weeks ago, and the McCain campaign refused to comment on it. Now they are out there pushing it hard, as polls consistently show the Republican trailing Obama in Virginia. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

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