Democrats lean on the late-Rep. John Lewis in new voter registration push

The Civil Rights icon is prominently featured in a new ad released Wednesday.

National Democrats are leaning on the late-Rep. John Lewis -- a towering leader of the Civil Rights Movement who rooted his lengthy political career in the issue of voting rights -- as part of a new push to register voters in some of the most competitive battlegrounds.

Lewis, who was known as the "conscience of the U.S. Congress" and died in July after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, is the centerpiece of a new digital ad released on Wednesday by the Democratic National Committee. It's part of a seven-figure digital investment that is aimed at encouraging voter registration in the hopes of driving up turnout some 40 days before Election Day.

"My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union," Lewis says in the ad, an excerpt from his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In between scenes of individuals of all colors and some of the country's most historic, yet tense, moments on voting rights -- including protests of women fighting for enfranchisement and marches from the civil rights era -- the ad appears to be making overtures to young and minority voters. The two demographics are core to the party's base and chances of potential success in November.

The prominence of Lewis in the digital ad, titled "Our Sacred Right," echoes his own commitment to voting rights, which began when he was just a teenager. It also makes a compelling case for voters to be engaged in the political process, even if they might be concerned over voter suppression efforts, disillusioned by the hyper-partisanship of Washington or are considering sitting out of the election altogether.

"Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax," an impassioned Lewis says. "Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote."

"And we have come too far together to ever turn back. We must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never, ever before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right," he says, ending the ad.

The new spot, which will run on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, will target voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- states that outline the battlefield this year and all of which are home to tight contests.

In a pair of new ABC News/Washington Post polls released Wednesday, Biden and President Donald Trump are locked in neck-and-neck races in Arizona and Florida, with Trump holding a slight advantage over Biden in both states among likely voters: 51% to 47% in Florida and 49% to 48% in Arizona.

Last week, ABC News/Washington Post polls in Wisconsin and Minnesota show Biden with an edge over Trump among likely voters, 52% to 46% in Wisconsin, and 57% to 41% in Minnesota.

The ad coincides with Tuesday's National Voter Registration Day, which marked a coordinated effort to register voters.

The Biden campaign hosted a virtual rally on Tuesday, featuring the Democratic nominee, who underscored the stakes of the impending election in pre-recorded remarks.

"This is the most important election of our lifetimes," Biden said, before encouraging supporters to register to vote. "It's up to all of to decide what our future is going to look like."

Biden's efforts were supplemented by President Barack Obama and Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, who made similar pleas to voters.

"Now is the time to safeguard our democracy and fight for what we believe in," Obama said in a video posted on Twitter. "All you've got to is make sure your voice is heard."

But the new push comes as the coronavirus continues to stymie get-out-the-vote efforts this cycle.

In 17 out of 21 states, voter registration rates are significantly behind where they were in 2016, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, amid the pandemic.

"On average, these 17 states have seen registrations decline by 38 percent this year," the report from the Brennan Center reads. "For some states, the decrease is less than that -- Wisconsin and Colorado are below 2016 rates by 2 percent and 20 percent, respectively -- while other states, like Maryland and Arizona, are below 2016 registration rates by 87 percent and 65 percent, respectively."

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