Diana Kerry, sister of U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry, answers questions in Madrid
Susana Vera  /  Reuters
Diana Kerry, sister of U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry and chair of the grassroots organization Americans Overseas for Kerry-Edwards (AOK), at a Madrid internet cafe on Friday. 
By Producer
NBC News
updated 9/10/2004 11:32:07 AM ET 2004-09-10T15:32:07

Thousands of miles away from the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, Diana Kerry arrived Friday at an important stop on the Democratic campaign trail -- a cyber cafe in Madrid, Spain.

Surrounded by a crowd of students, she explained how to register online in hopes of gaining votes for her older brother, Senator John Kerry.

In what promises to be a close election, neither Democrats nor Republicans can afford to ignore the estimated 6 million American voters living overseas.

"It's going to be a tough election and we don't want to drop the ball,” explained Diana Kerry, who has traveled to over 13 countries and three continents registering voters.

Expat courting expats
With over 15 years of living and teaching abroad in Indonesia, France and Thailand, Kerry answered the call from the grassroots organization, Americans Overseas, to lead the international campaign.

In August, the Democratic National Committee created a website making it possible for voters to register in five to ten minutes. The website now registers approximately 2,000 voters a day and has registered nearly 22,000 voters worldwide since it launched in August.

Kerry hopes that voters living abroad will like what her brother has to say.

"U.S. citizens living abroad see on the local front, the effect of our current foreign policy, and they understand that we need a new direction," Kerry said.

Republicans getting out overseas vote
Democrats are not the only ones courting voters abroad.

Republicans have also expanded their campaign beyond U.S. borders, turning countries like Spain, England and Israel into voting battlegrounds.

"Expats are between 5-7 million people, so it's a large group," explained Cynthia Dillon, the current president of the Republicans Abroad chapter in Madrid. "If I mobilize voters in Spain and if this is another tight race those votes may come in handy."

Although Republicans officials campaigning abroad, such as former Vice President Dan Quayle, have yet to visit Spain, Dillon expects a major event in Madrid before November. 

With less than 54 days until the elections, many Americans living here are actively involved in the political campaign -- saying that they feel extremely motivated to get out the vote.

"I feel as though we are registering voters in Selma, Alabama back in the 1960's," said Rosalind William who moved to Spain 36 years ago. Williams works as a photography curator in Madrid, but took time off work to volunteer for the Kerry campaign.

"We want to get Bush out, so that’s why it's important to get people registered," explained Williams, one of over 100,000 Americans living in Spain.

Influenced by Madrid attacks
Brian Engquist, an English teacher in Madrid, is voting for the first time since he moved to Spain 13 years ago.

Paul White  /  AP file
Rescue workers cover up bodies alongside a bomb-damaged passenger train after the terrorist attack in Madrid in March.

"I didn't think it was important to vote while I was abroad,” said Engquist who had a change of heart after he lived through the terror bombings in Madrid last March.

Nearly 200 people died when Islamic fundamentalists blew up four commuter trains and among the dead was a long-time friend of Engquist.

"Living through the Madrid bombings definitely motivated me to get politically active," he said.

Some analysts believe that Kerry can count on support from American voters in Spain, in contrast to voters in countries like Germany where a large U.S. military population traditionally supports Republican candidates.

"Americans living in Spain were influenced by Spanish public opinion after the Madrid bombings which came out strongly against the war in Iraq," said senior analyst Paul Isbell from the Real Instiuto Elcano.

He believes that the absentee votes from Spain could give a boost to the Democrats especially if the nearly 25,000 U.S. students studying in Spain register to vote.

Tina Novak is a 20-year-old exchange student from Texas studying business administration in Madrid. She grew up in a staunch Republican family but she plans on voting for Kerry in her first ever presidential election.

"Learning about the relations between the U.S. and Europe has really changed my perspective," Novak said.

She favors Kerry for his foreign policy and says, "It's not just about America because we all need to be in this together, and it's hard to do that with Bush and the decisions he is making."

Rachel Levin is an NBC News producer based in Madrid, Spain. For further information on voting abroad see: www.republicansabroad.org and www.overseasvote2004.com


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