Barack Obama will focus his resources largely in 14 states George W. Bush won in 2004, his chief field operative said Tuesday, hoping to score upsets in places such as Virginia, Indiana and Georgia.
But winning the White House won’t be his only goal, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand told Politico: In an unusual move, Obama’s campaign will also devote some resources to states it’s unlikely to win, with the goal of influencing specific local contests in places such as Texas and Wyoming.
“Texas is a great example where we might not be able to win the state, but we want to pay a lot of attention to it,” Hildebrand said. “It’s one of the most important redistricting opportunities in the country.”
Texas Democrats are five seats away in each chamber from control of the state Legislature, which will redraw congressional districts after the 2010 census.
In Wyoming, Democrat Gary Trauner, running for the state’s sole congressional seat, lost narrowly against an incumbent in 2006 and is now seeking an open seat.
“If we can register more Democrats, if we can increase the Democratic performance and turnout, maybe we can pick up a congressional seat,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand’s plans underscore the unusual scope and ambition of Obama’s campaign, which can relatively cheaply extend its massive volunteer and technological resources into states which won’t necessarily produce electoral votes.
In Texas, for instance, Obama’s three dozen offices were overrun with volunteers during the primary; the campaign’s challenge is, in part, to find something useful to do with all that free labor. But, while Hildebrand said Obama is unlikely to pay for television advertising outside a core of about 15 states the candidate thinks he can win, he will spend some money on staff. Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, reportedly told donors in Houston that he would send 15 staffers to Texas, and the campaign has committed to having some staff on the ground in all 50 states.
If Obama loses in November, the broad expenditures — and the specific ambition of extending Democratic control — may be seen as a distraction from the traditional, crucial battlegrounds like Ohio, leading John McCain’s campaign to dismiss Obama’s aspirations of broadening the playing field.
"It’s revealing that Barack Obama has now been forced to expand the states on his map because he’s so weak in traditional Democratic targets such as West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida, not to mention his ongoing problems in Pennsylvania and Ohio,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
But if Obama wins, he may have paved the path to a powerful Democratic majority. Obama has also sent out fundraising e-mails in the last week on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
A “new president alone isn't enough,” Obama wrote in a message sent to the DSCC’s e-mail list. “I've served long enough in the U.S. Senate to know that Washington must change, and I also know that big changes don't happen without big Senate majorities — and right now, Democrats occupy only 49 seats.”
“This November, we have a chance to create a Democratic Senate majority like we haven't seen in decades — but it won't happen on its own,” he wrote.
Hildebrand and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe have, in recent days, outlined the shape of the campaign. In an interview with Politico, Hildebrand said Obama would focus largely on 14 states George W. Bush won in 2004, plus one state Kerry won in 2004: New Hampshire, where Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton stage their first joint event Friday.
“We’re going to have to play hard in New Hampshire — we completely recognize that,” Hildebrand said.
Hildbrand also said Obama would campaign in part of Nebraska, which distributes its electoral votes to the winner of each individual congressional district.
“We’re going to go in and play Nebraska 2, which is Omaha and surrounding [areas], in the hopes that we can pick up that one electoral vote,” he said.
A presentation by Plouffe to donors, and Obama’s own early advertising expenditures, add three more to that list of states to defend: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In an interview, Hildebrand listed states in order of the margin by which Bush carried them: The closest four — Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada — he said, would see “a ton of attention.”
But he said Obama would campaign hard in 10 more states, with the candidate and his top surrogates spending time on the ground and his campaign spending money in the air. Those states are Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia and Alaska.
Skeptics have questioned Obama’s chances in states ranging from Montana, where Obama’s support of gun control is unpopular, to those in the South, where racially polarized voting patterns could undermine his chances. Some have suggested his broader playing field is a kind of “head-fake,” a maneuver designed to force McCain to spend money and time on states Obama doesn’t really think he can win.
Hildebrand dismissed that suggestion.
“We’re going in to win those states,” he said. “We’re not going in to make McCain have to pay attention to them. We’re going in to win. The result of that is he’s going to have to pay serious attention to them where he otherwise might not have to.”