By Humphrey Carter
THE American overseas vote could swing the forthcoming elections in the United States. Americans Overseas for Kerry, the campaign group set up by the Democratic Party's presidential candidate's sister, Diana, has swung into overdrive.

The Chairman of Americans Overseas for Kerry Spain, Juan Verde, said yesterday that there are some 200'000 Americans living in Spain. At least 2'000 of them live in the Balearics with the majority in Majorca. Considering that the last election was decided by just 500 votes, “we believe the overseas vote could make all the difference this time around.” Verde has been holding meetings and surgeries with Americans resident in Spain over the past few months and is planning to hold one on Majorca within the next few weeks. “We are mounting a two-pronged campaign, firstly we are making sure that all US citizens know that the deadline for registering to vote is September 15 and that a special website has been set up to make registering as easy as possible (www.overseasvote2004.com). “Once the deadline is passed, then we will start campaigning for the Kerry/Edwards ticket in earnest, explaining what the Democrats are planning to do” he said yesterday.

Diana Kerry set up the campaign group, which now has offices in 30 different countries, after having spent a great deal of time living abroad as an “expat,” particularly in Europe. She realised that many Americans living abroad are either sympathetic to, or supporters of the Democratic Party.

However, Verde, who was a political appointee of the Clinton administration and has fought 12 political campaigns in the US, explained that, on researching the voting habits of Americans overseas, the majority of votes cast were for the Republicans. “Primarily the reason being the large number of US military personnel based overseas and they have to register. Secondly, many people find the registration process complicated, hence the website and our efforts to help people through the complex process,” he said. “While there are 108'000 American residents registered with the Embassy in Spain, we put the figure at around 200'000. “Spain is the second most popular country in the world for US students and they never register with the embassy, for example, plus there are residents who have never bothered. “What is also interesting is that we have come across a large number of residents who have lived in Spain for 30 or even 40 years and they have not bothered to vote either. But the vast majority say they intend to vote this time around, and many for Kerry,” says Verde.

Having been based in Madrid for the past year, Verde has been up and down the country holding an average of two meetings per week with US expatriates and he says that the primary concern, and objection of many, is President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

He agreed, many feel victims of an anti-American backlash, particularly in Spain where Verde points out that the war in Iraq was extremely unpopular. “Foreign policy is going to be the key issue for US expats at the next election in France, England, Germany and Spain and the election may be a tight one again unless as many people as possible vote. “Spain is a very important country for the US vote and we know that Bush's unpopular foreign policy is even forcing traditional Republicans living here to vote Democrat this time around,” he said.

ARROGANT “Many Americans want to see an administration determined to re-establish better relations with the international community and its traditional allies and want an end to this unilateral and arrogant approach to foreign policy,” he said. “Most Americans feel that Bush's America does not represent what they believe in and some speak of feeling embarrassed to say they're an American, particularly here in Spain. They don't identify with Bush and we're confident that will reflect in the election result,” he added. “Their world is not a safer place and many Americans feel it, especially in their day-to-day life, even business people are having to deal with the growing anti-American feeling.” Another key issue for Americans overseas is fiscal policy. “Americans enjoy the same benefits overseas as at home, but there are growing concerns that expatriates will start losing out as the United States's deficit starts to hit historic levels, mainly because of war spending,” Verde said. “When the Republicans came to power, the budget surplus had never been so positive and, of course, everybody benefited. “But now, Bush's fiscal debt is running away with itself and that will mean less money for social programmes, social security and retirement funds. Americans overseas are worried that they will be the first to suffer. “But, as I said, we're confident that the Kerry/Edwards ticket will prove the winning combination for the Democrats. “The response from grass-roots voters this time around is immense. “Just over the past two months, the Democratic party has received 150 million dollars in funding and 70 percent of that has come from internet donors. “These are small, private supporters donating an average of 100 to 150 dollars a time, that's a good indication of the kind of support Kerry is getting. “On the other hand, the Republicans are having to rely on big business and super rich individuals,” he said. “The turn out on election day will be much bigger than last time and, normally when that happens, the Democrats gain. “It's when the electorate stays at home that the Democrats suffer, so what we're doing in Spain is making sure that the Americans get out and vote, but more importantly, vote for Kerry and Edwards,” he said.

For more information visit www.AOKerry.com

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