Obama Campaign Eyes Key Western States

Democrats envision a new coalition that will change the political map.


Presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama plans to campaign next week in New Mexico and Nevada, two "big targets out West for us," says spokesman Bill Gibbs. The Obama campaign says it expects to not only be competitive in those states but is also "positioned to lock up" the traditional western battleground states of Washington and Oregon much earlier than past Democratic nominees Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, he said.

The politics of the western states are changing—evidenced, he says, by polls in Montana that show a "competitive race." (Expected GOP nominee John McCain has been running about 7 points ahead of Obama in head-to-head polls in Montana.)

Overall, the campaign says it expects to hold all the states Kerry carried in 2004 and "play offense in a lot of others," including the traditional red states of Virginia and North Carolina. A benefit of the long primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Gibbs says, is the organization the Obama camp now has countrywide.

Obama is only leading John McCain by a few percentage points nationally in the latest opinion polls, but the Democratic presidential candidate's strategists say he is on his way to creating a new coalition that will give him a solid victory in November and revamp the way everyone thinks about presidential politics. "That's tearing up the old map and the old notions of how the campaign is going to be won or lost," Obama pollster Cornell Belcher told U.S. News. "...It's going to be a new and different coalition that takes Democrats over the finish line this November."

Among the elements of his coalition are independents, intellectuals, traditional Democrats, antiwar Americans, and African-Americans and young people, two groups that have been turning out for Obama in record numbers in Democratic primaries and caucuses. Belcher says the coalition is still evolving, but a central ingredient is that more than eight out of 10 Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Obama also hopes to do better than recent Democratic nominees in Republican-leaning areas and carry states such as Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. And the Obama campaign has been encouraged by this week's Quinnipiac polls showing that he leads McCain in the big swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.

—Liz Halloran and Kenneth T. Walsh