PHILADELPHIA U.S. civil rights campaigner and Barack Obama supporter Al Sharpton is registering blacks to vote in six battleground states that could help swing the November 4 presidential election.
Sharpton, a fiery campaigner who sought the Democratic nomination in 2004, aims to register at least a quarter of the estimated 9.5 million unregistered blacks nationally.
The campaign is targeting Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan, possibly pivotal states in the contest between Obama, a Democrat who would be the first black U.S. president, and Republican John McCain.
The proportion of unregistered blacks ranges from 12 percent in Missouri to 44 percent in Nevada, according to Sharpton's nonpartisan National Action Network. The rates are higher among 18- to 24-year-olds.
In Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Kerry beat Republican President George W. Bush by 2.5 points in 2004, 36 percent of blacks, or about 500,000 people, are unregistered, Sharpton said.
"That could be the difference of who wins or loses in Pennsylvania," Sharpton told high school students at a rally at the University of Pennsylvania. "Who wins the White House can be based not on who votes but who doesn't vote."
The presidential election is decided by 50 statewide contests, with each state assigned electoral votes proportionate to population.
In nearly all cases, the candidate who wins the state takes all its electoral votes, meaning any state could swing a close election as happened with Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.
Elijah Anderson, a sociology professor at Yale University, said the registration drive was more likely to succeed this election because many African-Americans were energized by Obama's candidacy.
"This is a historic election, and the fact that there is an African-American man on the ticket is especially exciting for black people," Anderson said.
During a bus tour by Sharpton of largely black North Philadelphia, local resident Debbie Hayes said she did not vote in the 2004 presidential election because she had just moved and local election officials did not have a record of her new address.
Hayes, 28, who is unemployed, said she registered this time because "Obama's running for president."
Lawrence Sims, 56, a trash truck driver, said he was not registered to vote in 2004, but "I just registered the other day because I'm going to vote for Obama."
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney)