WASHINGTON - What do Utah Republicans, the Iraq war and Barack Obama's presidential candidacy have in common?
All could play into a strategy to persuade lawmakers from other parts of the country to give residents of the nation's capital - a majority-black, Democratic enclave of about 582,000 - a voting member in Congress. After decades of failed attempts, advocates of voting rights for the District of Columbia say this year may offer their best chance.
The House of Representatives passed D.C. voting rights legislation last month. The tougher sell, in the Senate, begins with a hearing Tuesday in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The strategy goes like this:
_ Give D.C. one voting member in the House but create a second seat and give that one to majority-Republican Utah, at least until new congressional districts are drawn after the 2010 census. Utah fell just shy of getting a fourth congressional seat after the last census.
_ Use the Iraq war and issues relating to race to pressure those who say that the Constitution grants states only the right to have voting members of Congress.
With many D.C. residents serving in Iraq, advocates say Americans fighting for democratic principles abroad should have full access to the democratic process at home. The district has never had a vote in Congress.
And the early strength of Obama, the biracial junior senator from Illinois, in the Democratic primary has captured the hopes of many black voters and makes certain that race in America is a theme that will frame some of the election debate.
"This issue is a national civil- rights issue on par with the Voting Rights Act of 1965," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s nonvoting delegate, in an interview.
"Black people may know nothing else about D.C. but these two things: There are a lot of black people here, and they don't have the vote in Congress. And that links directly in the minds of African-Americans and, I believe many others, to the denial of a vote to African-Americans historically."
Jack Kemp, the Republican former presidential aspirant, lawmaker and Housing and Urban Development secretary, also is a spokesman for D.C. voting rights.
He says Republicans should support the change if they want black Americans to identify the Republican Party as the party of Abraham Lincoln. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is another co-sponsor. So are Obama and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
In the House, two of Norton's chief allies are Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who shaped the Utah compromise.
But several lawmakers remain unconvinced, especially within Republican ranks.
Opponents include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., general chairman of the Republican Party. *