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Obama's 50 State Strategy

By Kyle Trygstad

WASHINGTON -- If everything goes according to the campaign's plan, Barack Obama should win all of the states John Kerry carried in 2004, plus a few that haven't been seriously challenged by a Democratic candidate in years.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe dissected the electoral map in front of about 80 reporters yesterday at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, explaining the multiple routes to victory the campaign has plotted in its race for the presidency against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

"We are going to have a lot of states in play," Plouffe said. "And we have a lot of different paths to get 270 [electoral votes]."

It begins with the 2004 electoral map, when Pres. Bush won 286 electoral votes to John Kerry's 252. With the goal being 270 votes, Plouffe noted that the first step is to hold all of the states that John Kerry won. This of course is no easy task, with states such as Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, which the campaign views as the most competitive of Kerry's states. Still, for example, by adding to the Kerry states the 7 votes from Iowa, where the campaign feels it has a strong advantage over McCain, the new starting point is 259 votes, with just 11 votes to go.

As Plouffe describes it, the much-discussed "50 State Strategy" is pretty close to being just that. While he admitted that only a few staffers will be placed in some states -- one of them likely being Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country -- Plouffe said that in some states unlikely to vote for Obama, such as Texas, there are "tens of thousands of people who want to help" in some way, like working at phone banks. "The reality is we've got a lot of volunteers in these states," Plouffe said, "and we want a productive way to use them."

Five states -- Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota -- have voted Democratic just three times in the last 20 presidential elections, from 1928 to 2004, and all five did so the same years -- 1932, 1936 and 1964, all Democratic landslides. This is a prime example of where the 50 State Strategy comes in, as the campaign has already begun airing television ads in North Dakota and Indiana. Plouffe said North Dakota is "very close right now," and that Indiana is "absolutely competitive" because of its close proximity to Obama's home state of Illinois and the fact that McCain has little or no campaign presence there.

Other than the states considered safely in the Democratic column, the campaign views four states that Kerry won as currently leaning in Obama's favor: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Maine. However, they are not worried enough about these states to begin advertising there yet, as they feel they have big advantages there.

There are 18 states the Obama campaign views as "battleground states," totaling 199 electoral votes. Four are states Kerry won -- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan -- while the remaining Bush states are ones the campaign feels are winnable if certain things fall into place.

Two of these states include Alaska and Georgia, where Plouffe said Libertarian candidate Bob Barr could win as much as 8 percent of the votes, mostly coming out of McCain's pool of voters. In Georgia, which Barr represented in Congress, Plouffe said the goal is to get 49 percent. "We think we can," he said, but added they would need an "ideal electorate to get there." Their aim, he said, "is to have a historically high African American turnout." In Alaska, Plouffe said they have a "fantastic organization," while McCain "doesn't have anything."

In Iowa, which before 2004 voted Democratic four straight times, the campaign feels that the months it spent there leading up to the January 3 primary has benefited Obama greatly. If Obama wins Iowa, as well as the Kerry states, he would need to win only North Carolina or Virginia, and "it's game, set, match," as Plouffe said. He noted that in those two states there are many unregistered blacks and young professionals that the campaign will target in its voter registration drives. These two states combined have only voted Democratic once since 1964 -- North Carolina in 1976 -- but the campaign expects to compete in both, evidenced by Obama kicking off his general election campaign in Virginia.

This scenario precludes the need to win Ohio or Florida to get to 270 votes, though Plouffe made sure to note the campaign would be devoting incredible attention to these states.

The campaign's strategy is based on three top priorities: voter registration, helping down ballot Democrats get elected and building a grassroots organization in every state. In what Plouffe called their "persuasion army," the campaign aims to get grassroots volunteers in every community -- people who are "like them, talk like them" -- to drive up support in a way TV advertising and direct mail are not able to do.

Obama currently is airing a biographical TV ad in eighteen states, including states like Indiana and North Dakota, as noted earlier, that are not states other Democratic nominees would likely compete in. The strategy, Plouffe said, "is centered on Senator Obama's appeal," followed by having the organization needed to speak with every swing voter. "We have the organization and financial capacity to compete" in these places, Plouffe said.

Standing in the way, of course, is McCain, who Plouffe said "is the one person they could have nominated that is strong with independents," and because of that the election is very close. However, "as they learn the fissures in this election," Plouffe said, "we think the independents will move in the right direction."

Along with independents, the campaign is targeting the support of Hispanics and suburban women, two demographic groups that both Kerry and Al Gore won in the last two elections. Hillary Clinton's presence on the campaign trail should help. Asked how and where the campaign plans to include her, Plouffe said they will take "as much time as she can give us."

As part of its 50 State Strategy to win the necessary 270 electoral votes, the campaign is sure to tie McCain to a President that is struggling with a job approval rating in the high 20's/low 30's. Plouffe said McCain could be in trouble when voters in battleground states "find out he wants to keep the Bush economic policies, pretty much down the line. ... In this climate, he's going to pay a price for that."

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