Starting Gate: Obama's Big Play

Barack Obama's campaign plans to announce today that the candidate will deliver his speech accepting the Democratic nomination at Denver's Invesco Field rather than the smaller, more confined Pepsi Center where the rest of the convention speeches will be held. The change in venue (for a one-night event) may be a logistical nightmare for organizers, the media and security, but it fits perfectly with what appears to be Obama's emerging strategy – one focused not on just winning, but winning big in November.

Political events, particularly conventions, are made-for-television events, meaning they are much smaller and cozier than they appear on the screen. Anyone attending such an event for the first time would likely be surprised at audiences than number maybe ten to twenty thousand. By taking his moment out of a near-studio environment and turning into a rock-star moment before as many as 75,000 cheering spectators, he will be setting a new aesthetic standard for one of the most important moments in a presidential campaign.

For all of Obama's reliance on symbolism and big speeches before huge crowds, there's more than theatrics involved in it all. His campaign has systematically, and from the very beginning, sent a clear message: They will compete anywhere and everywhere.

Obama may not have ended up in the position to be thinking about his acceptance speech had he not followed that strategy, competing in states like Wyoming and Kansas almost uncontested by Hillary Clinton. And his campaign has already been running general election ads in states seemingly locked in the GOP column, like Alaska, South Carolina and Montana. He spent the holiday weekend in Montana and North Dakota, talking about the possibility of winning states Democrats wrote off for decades.

Couple that with Obama's seemingly swift move to the middle ground on issues like wire-taps, gun control and his aggressive courting of religious voters and it's becoming clear that it's not all designed just to pay lip service to the idea of making this a truly national campaign. Obama may face criticism from that part of his party which carried him to the nomination (he had to write an open letter last week to supporters upset with his support of the FISA compromise, for example), but so far there's no sign that a full-fledged revolt is anywhere near likely.

The campaign map may yet end up looking very similar to the ones we've seen in recent cycles and it could still wind up being all about the results in a swing state like Ohio on election night. But Obama is doing more than nibbling around the edges in this general so far. He's trying to take the kind of bite out of the map that could deliver surprising victories in November. It's not exactly an all-or-nothing strategy but it is one thinking big -- potentially very big. And moving the acceptance speech from a glorified television studio to a football stadium fits right in.

Around The Track

  • John McCain kicks off his week-long focus on the economy with a pledge to balance the federal budge within four years, the Politico reports. He'll do so, reportedly, by slashing wasteful spending and overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security.
  • John Kerry, who reportedly considered tapping McCain to be his running mate in 2004, said his opinion of the Arizona senator has changed. "John McCain has changed in profound and fundamental ways that I find personally really surprising, and frankly upsetting," the 2004 Democratic nominee said in an appearance on "Face the Nation" yesterday.
  • In the wake of last week's shakeup in the McCain campaign, New York Times columnist Bill Kristol writes that more may be on the way. Kristol says he believes veteran GOP strategist Mike Murphy, a close adviser to the senator in 2000, will soon join the campaign. Why? "McCain is frustrated," he writes. "He thinks he can beat Obama. … But he isn't convinced his campaign can beat Obama's campaign. He knows that his three-month general election head start was largely frittered away. He understands that his campaign has failed to develop an overarching message. Above all, McCain is painfully aware that he is being diminished by his own campaign."
  • Obama is having difficulties with at least some of Hillary Clinton's big supporters, reports the Wall Street Journal. The paper reports that "dozens" of Clinton fundraisers are launching various efforts to pressure Obama on specific issues while 115 of her donors have given money to McCain since May.