THE BLOG
11/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

ACORN Isn't Obama's Swiftboat, But It Can Distract

The dredging up of the alleged ACORN voter registration fraud charge hardly rises to the level of the much talked about and much dreaded October Surprise that one, more or many GOP 527 committees supposedly are getting ready to drop on the nation's plate in a last gasp effort to derail Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. The problem is that the attack against the group for supposedly cooking the voter registration books to get tens of thousands of fake voters on the rolls to elect Democrats is old news.

In 2006, a GOP leaning pro business outfit, the Employment Policies Institute, churned out a report which purportedly documented a long trail of ACORN abuses from embezzlement, shaking down foundations and federal agencies, and of course, abusing its non-profit, non-partisan charter to pad the Democratic Party voter rolls. Since then like clockwork, GOP officials and politicians have trotted out the allegations of an ACORN voter hijack plot.

However, the one kernel of truth in the GOP hit attacks is that ACORN is an unabashedly grassroots activist group. And while there is no proof that ACORN systematically steered newly registered voters to the Democrats, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of those that it targets in its registration and political education drives are low income and minority. This is not rocket science stuff to figure that most will vote Democratic. And even if as apparently was the case in the Nevada raid, one, or even a few overzealous ACORN workers deliberately bent the election rules, this does not add up to wholesale legal fraud. Yet, it's still worth a good, loud squawk, and that's of course what the GOP is doing. But because it squawked about the group, and has continued to squawk about it for many months, that further lessons the odds that the group will be the Swiftboat 2008.

The ACORN flap, though, does raise a real fear, and that is that the GOP state committees, the Republican National Committee, with the Justice Department in tow, will use the ACORN ploy to challenge the voter registration cards of thousands of voters in the must win state of Nevada, as well as several other swing states. In fact, GOP officials didn't wait for November 4th to start in on the ACORN registered voters. They have made formal challenges to dozens of newly ACORN registered voters in Ohio, Michigan Pennsylvania, and even Montana. So far the challenges have been scatter gun, and hit and miss.

But if the final vote on November 4th is close in one or more of the key states where ACORN worked, the GOP will demand that state registrars dump the alleged fraudulent votes, and if that doesn't work they'll clog the courts with a blizzard of vote fraud lawsuits. The nightmarish spectacle of an endless round of haggling, finger pointing, charges and counter charges between the GOP and the Democrats over the final vote could cast a cloud over an Obama win which would delight some within the GOP.

The irony is that any GOP strategy to taint an Obama win would be helped along by Obama. That's part two of the cast an Obama win in doubt strategy. McCain tipped that in the final debate when he pounded Obama for allegedly approving more than $800,000 to ACORN to help with its voter registration drive. It's a stretch to say that Obama's campaign gave the money to the group purely with the noble goal in mind of educating and registering more voters -- sans party affiliation. Yet, despite the obvious political motive, there was nothing illegal or fraudulent about the support it gave ACORN.

The GOP has certainly doled out millions to allegedly non-partisan groups that are anything but non-partisan to register more GOP voters. But tie the ACORN-Obama campaign money into the one shot legal work that Obama did for the organization in a court challenge voter case more than decade ago, as well as a widely circulating YouTube video showing Obama promising an ACORN pep rally last year that they would be welcomed to advise and consult on community issues in his administration and you have all the makings of a GOP charged grand Obama election theft conspiracy.

The Republican National Committee certainly wasted no time in jumping on that theme with its recent online ad charging an Obama orchestrated national vote fraud grab in the making. There will be more ads and charges like this to come. ACORN's efforts to register, educate and empower millions of rural and inner city forgotten, ignored and unfranchised adults is indeed noble. And the missteps of a few in the group and the railing of the GOP against them do not detract from its accomplishment. Unfortunately, that accomplishment is now the new GOP trump card against Obama.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).