News & Current Affairs

June 8, 2008

Each Party Is Set to Hunt The Other’s Usual Ground

The 2008 general election will pit the best-organized nomination campaign in the history of modern Democratic politics against the battle-tested machinery of the Republican Party, with both Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) determined to shake up an electoral map that has been virtually static over the past two elections.

Democrats enjoy a highly favorable electoral climate at this start of the general election, created by gloomy attitudes about the state of the country and economy, President Bush’s low approval ratings and negative perceptions of the GOP. But as Obama shifts his attention from his primary victory over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) to his test against McCain, the electoral map nonetheless foreshadows another highly competitive race in November.

McCain and Obama offer a rare combination of nominees able to poach on the other party’s turf. Both have proven appeal to independents. McCain will target disgruntled Clinton supporters; Obama will target disaffected Republicans. Women, Latinos and, especially, white working-class voters will find themselves courted intensely by the two campaigns.

On issues, the differences are stark, beginning with views on Iraq but also including the economy, now the dominant issue in virtually every region of the country.

Officials from both campaigns confidently predict that they will steal states that have been in the other party’s column in recent elections, and an early analysis suggests there will be new battlegrounds added to the map this year, with Virginia, Colorado and Nevada among them. The Midwest remains the most concentrated competitive region of the country, but advisers to McCain and Obama agree that the election could turn on the outcome of contests in the Rocky Mountain States and the South.

Obama plans to deploy his grass-roots forces, now hardened by the grueling campaign against Clinton, to every corner of the country. “We’re going to be playing a lot more offense than they are,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe predicted.

Obama advisers hope the energy and enthusiasm around the senator’s candidacy will not only help him win the White House but also aid down-ballot Democrats, even in Republican states that may be out of reach in the presidential race. “We will have organizations in all 50 states,” Plouffe said. “Some will be battlegrounds; some won’t. But all will have something to contribute.”

Plouffe said Obama’s route to the necessary 270 electoral votes starts with holding every state won by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and then focusing on a handful of red states that Obama advisers think are ripe for conversion.

The Kerry map gives Obama 252 electoral votes. To pick up the next 18 electoral votes, Obama will target Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. His list also includes Ohio, where he lost the primary to Clinton but which, in the 2006 midterms, shifted dramatically toward the Democrats.

McCain’s advisers expressed equal confidence that their candidate can hit the 270 mark, despite a political environment that Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, called “a major hurdle for us.”

McCain’s team thinks that his potential appeal to independents and some Democrats makes it possible to prevail in what otherwise looks to be a very tough year.

“We understand how to do this,” said Mike DuHaime, a senior adviser to both the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee. “We have operatives who understand how to do this. . . . It’s going to give us a tremendous opportunity to turn out voters who wouldn’t normally be Republicans.”

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