By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Rockers, wrestlers, racecar drivers, rappers, basketball stars - this year, it seems they all have a second job.
Getting people to vote.
Celebrities, political organizers and the candidates themselves are trying to use the power of pop culture to reach folks who don't normally go the polls.
And for good reason. Only about half of the voting-age population turned out for the 2000 presidential election. That means about 100 million eligible voters sat out an election decided by just 537 votes in Florida.
"I think this is an election in which people who have never voted before are going to be the key to who wins and who loses," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn PAC, an anti-Bush group that helped organize a string of concerts designed to attract nonvoters.
Among the groups being targeted: the poor, new immigrants, the young, blacks, single women, even the Amish.
Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M. and the Dixie Chicks are headlining an anti-Bush October concert tour through battleground states. Ticket sales will benefit a group pushing to oust President Bush.
Singer Bonnie Raitt said she joined the tour because of the country's "emergency" but promised the concerts would be fun. "We don't see hours of haranguing speeches and 20 minutes of music."
Raitt, Jackson Browne and Keb' Mo' will play the Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati on Oct. 2.
The Republicans send an 18-wheeler called "Reggie the Registration Rig" to NASCAR races, World Wrestling Entertainment matches and state fairs. Reggie also made a stop at the Cincinnati Reds home opener and camped outside MTV's Times Square studios.
"We are more than two-thirds of the way to our goal of registering 3 million new voters and Reggie is a big part of that," said Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Sean "P. Diddy" Combs launched Citizen Change, aimed at getting people not just to register but to vote. His message, which he encourages people to say as well as wear on T-shirts, is "Vote or Die."
About a dozen groups are spending millions to reach young voters, generally those under 30 or 25. They've recruited stars like Drew Barrymore, set up Web sites and used TV ads and mailings.
Is it working?
Sitting outside the White House, 18-year-old Jean Ncho of Novato, Calif., said he has seen "tons of it," much of it on MTV and Black Entertainment Television.
"I was going to vote anyway, but it definitely increased my desire to vote," said Ncho, a University of California-Santa Barbara freshman.
Turnout in the 2004 election is expected to rise compared with 2000. But all the ad campaigns and pop culture links aren't the main reason, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
"People don't vote because Bruce Springsteen tells you to vote," Gans said. "They vote because of real issues or real concerns about people."
On the Web:
www.gopteamleader.com/reggie, Reggie the Registration Rig.
www.moveonpac.org, MoveOn PAC, with information on Vote for Change tour.
www.johnkerry.com, Kerry-Edwards campaign.
www.georgewbush.com, Bush-Cheney campaign.
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