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HEIDELBERG, Germany — John McQueen, once a civil servant laboring within U.S. Army Europe’s logistics offices, calls himself a "left-wing Democrat, anti-war."

He needed company. So in 1994, he started the Heidelberg chapter of Democrats Abroad. "I wanted to get involved," said McQueen.

On Friday night, 14 years and many online newsletters later, McQueen sat at the usual table at Perkeo on Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse. He was waiting for his fellow ex-pat Democrats to arrive for their monthly meeting, dinner and discussion. It was clear from the talk that followed, he was in his element.

There are eight chapters of Democrats Abroad in Germany, up from two in 1994, including one in Berlin with nearly 1,000 members, McQueen said. The Heidelberg chapter has about 250 members, of whom exactly one is a U.S. Army officer, according to chapter president Charles Keene.

Democrats Abroad is the overseas branch of the Democratic Party and will be sending delegates to the party convention.

There is also a Republicans Abroad Germany. But that is a non-profit group, that, its Web site says, was started in 2007 and is devoted to, among other things, "conducting non-partisan voter registration for U.S. citizens residing in Germany, including assistance with absentee ballots for U.S. federal elections; voter outreach including providing information about Republican policies and candidates; promoting the principles of the U.S. Republican Party through hosting events, fund raising and public outreach."

This presidential election has caused a spike in interest and activity for the political groups.

McQueen has been invited to debate representatives from Republicans Abroad, including one event in Munich that is expected to draw 600 people.

"We’ve never had so many debates," McQueen said. "I’ve even been invited to Vienna."

On Friday night, Democrats Abroad members — among them an astronomer, a man who works at Pepperdine University, a Defense Department schools administrator, and a former Air Force journalist and English teacher — discussed the upcoming elections, getting out the vote, the success and savvy of their candidate, Barack Obama, his trip to Berlin, and what they saw as new lows in the political advertising of John McCain, the expected GOP nominee.

"We refer to him as ‘John McSame,’ " McQueen said.

Most of the members present had lived in Germany for 30 years or more.

There were also German guests, including one woman who teaches English and wants to become more informed about the election, and another who asked McQueen to please explain why voting machines and systems in the United States were haphazard and error-prone, compared to those in Germany.

The group also discussed efforts to increase ex-pat voter participation.

Part of that is publicizing a Democrats Abroad-opeated Web site, votefromabroad.org, that walks users through the process of voter registration and requesting absentee ballots.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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