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The first vote Tracy Hatfield ever casts in Minnesota will belong to Barack Obama.

Here in the heart of north Minneapolis' black community, on a block dotted with board-ups and Section 8 subsidized rentals, this once homeless mother answers the door with her 3-year-old grandson, Travonte, clinging to her leg.

"I can't wait to vote," Hatfield, 44, tells Veronica Andrews, an area church member who is out on her first door-knocking drive for Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate.

"It's not a black thing, it's not a white thing," Hatfield says. "It's just different. Everyone around here is going to vote. I wish the kids could vote."

This year's presidential campaign is expected to generate record voter turnout in black communities across the nation -- partly through the efforts of young, new volunteers such as Andrews, joining a black political mobilization that hasn't been seen in decades. National efforts to date have registered an estimated 1.3 million new voters, more than 60 percent of them minorities.

In critical battleground states such as Florida, the Obama team is targeting 600,000 black voters who are registered to vote but who don't show up regularly on Election Day. A big turnout by new, or newly revived, black voters there and in other pivotal states such as Virginia and North Carolina could redraw the electoral map for Obama on Election Day.

But some registration drives that are drawing in multitudes of minority voters are under fire. One group that claims to have registered more than 1 million new voters nationwide is being accused of submitting piles of fraudulent voter forms in several battleground states. The group, known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, says the complaints are overblown or false. Republicans are among ACORN's loudest critics. At a campaign stop in Bethlehem, Pa., supporters of John McCain interrupted his remarks Wednesday by shouting, "No more ACORN."

Other voter sign-up initiatives are plainly tapping into voter fervor. In Minneapolis, going door-to-door on a brisk Saturday morning, Andrews hears it again and again: It's not because he's black. It's the man. It's change.

But then, from the mouth of a little girl on a tricycle up the street: "Who's going to vote for Barack Obama?" she yells, pumping her fist. "He's black!"

"That's good enough," Andrews says with a sigh.

Just four years ago, Hatfield and her two daughters were living in a homeless shelter, too preoccupied with bare survival to vote. On this day, she is filling out a voter registration card for Andrews, a Christian conservative who backed President Bush in 2004 but has switched allegiances this time.

'It was not in vain'

Only 45 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed aloud of racial equality, the memories and emotions are still strong.

In the Favor Cafe on Lake Street, two dozen black community leaders are gathered over a Saturday afternoon coffee, mapping out strategy for turning voting rights into actual votes.

"I never thought I'd live to see this day," says Matthew Little, the longtime Minneapolis NAACP figure who organized the Minnesota contingent to King's March on Washington in 1963. "It was not in vain. We're accomplishing something."

Angela and Keith Dawson opened their Southern soul food eatery and bar two months ago, and it has quickly become a spot for political meetings and debate-watching parties.

"There's a sense that we're on the road to history," says Angela Dawson, says of the black elected officials and community leaders sitting in her cafe.

Among them is U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota's first black congressman. He is encouraging the organizers to take Election Day off from work to make sure that the thousands of newly registered voters actually get to the polls. And while state law guarantees time off to vote on the morning of Election Day, one organizer worries that taking time off for campaign work could cost some their jobs.

"If the spirit of 'it won't happen' prevails," Ellison shoots back, "then it can't happen. We have to operate in a positive spirit."

From the back of the room, someone calls out, "Yes we can!"

Affluent black professionals from the suburbs also are making their presence felt. Among them is Tori Hill, a business consultant who works out of her Eden Prairie home, which has two Obama signs planted in the front yard. She's a lifelong voter, but had never been involved in a presidential campaign. Inspired by Obama, she volunteered to be a precinct captain and was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "There's just a sense that it's time," she says.

'Das wassup'

Although there were only 36 black delegates at the GOP's national convention in St. Paul, some Republican groups in the state have also tried to reach out to black conservatives.

This month, college Republicans at the University of Minnesota heard from black congressional candidate Barbara Davis White, who is challenging Ellison in the Fifth District. She said blacks need to stop marching in lockstep with the Democrats' Big Government message. "You're not a welfare check," she said. "You're not a food stamp."

Ellison's campaign is trying to register 20,000 new voters in Minneapolis. While such efforts are technically nonpartisan, they're widely seen as helping the prospects of candidates in the Democratic Party.

Minnesota's black community of somewhere under 200,000 -- about 3.5 percent of the state's population -- is hardly a major voting block but could be a game-changer in a tight election. George Mason University Prof. Michael McDonald of the U.S. Election Project estimated black turnout in the state to be just a few points below the state's overall rate of 77 percent in the 2004 presidential election.

One day recently, registration workers seemed to be finding new voters on the fringes of the city: at a tattered house with an unkempt yard, a littered store parking lot, a hip-hop street festival.

"It's generally people younger than me, low-income people, and minorities" said Billy Duss, 21, an Ellison campaign worker leading a door-knocking crew at dusk in south Minneapolis.

Across town at the corner of Broadway and Lyndale Avs. N., Damon Starks, an ex-con, is plying a bus stop with voter registration cards. Fanning out around him, on nearly every corner for a six-block stretch, are other volunteers from an anti-violence group called the Peace Foundation.

In a community where a large percentage of young men like Starks have had run-ins with the law, one of his tasks is to inform other ex-felons that their voting rights can be restored once they're "off paper" -- street slang for having completed probation.

"Are you registered to vote?" Starks asks a female passerby.

"Yup, I'm ready for it," she replies.

"Das wassup," Starks says.

They understand 'Obama'

Black churches are also pitching in to register voters, but they have to stay at arms-length from partisan electioneering.

Hill, who has joined a get-out-the-vote effort at St. Paul's Pilgrim Baptist Church, one of the state's oldest black congregations, shows up for a weekend voter registration drive wearing an Obama pin.

Ora Lee Pattersen, a member of the church's voter registration committee, cocks her head to one side. "You can't wear that pin," she says.

For Pattersen, trying to enlarge the black vote, one of the most immediate challenges is the public housing project across the street from the church in St. Paul's traditionally black Rondo neighborhood.

Many of the residents are now Somalis. Many aren't naturalized citizens or don't speak much English.

"But some do speak English and they can [legally] vote," she said.

Then she adds, with a laugh: "They understand 'Obama.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753