Entering the final stage of the race, the two presidential campaigns are plotting strategies that rely on vastly different readings of the electoral map, with Barack Obama competing hard in a large number of traditionally Republican states and John McCain focusing on a small set of familiar battlegrounds.
A wild card in their calculations is McCain’s vice-presidential choice, Sarah Palin. Strategists say it is too early to assess whether the Alaska Governor’s profile, which has energised core Republican voters, will put new states in play for the GOP ticket. A McCain campaign says it is already heartened by one post-Palin development: a wave of new GOP volunteers in Florida, Wisconsin and other crucial states.
With the election less than two months out, each campaign is reevaluating the map. Privately, McCain strategists acknowledge they are up against a mighty field operation assembled by the Obama campaign, which McCain’s team has been hard-pressed to match. The Obama campaign’s worries include carrying Wisconsin and New Hampshire, two states that voted Democratic four years ago, but are no sure thing this time around. They are also keeping an eye on Michigan, another Democratic state in 2004.
Armed with the larger bank account, Obama is making serious investments of staff and advertising in 18 states, 14 of which voted to reelect President Bush in 2004. The idea is to hold on to all of the states that Democrat John F Kerry won in 2004, then peel off enough traditionally Republican states to put Obama over the top. The Obama operation boasts dozens of paid staff and multiple offices in Montana and North Dakota. Other states that Republicans won in 2004, but Obama is now targeting, include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
McCain campaign officials see a more constricted field of play. In McCain’s view, the election hinges on several Rust Belt and Upper Midwest states, particularly Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as the perennial battleground of Florida. Voter registration in key states has been trending Democratic. In Pennsylvania, registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by more than 1.1 million, up from 484,000 in 2000.