Obama’s serves up Southern strategy

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Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Georgia spent the weekend training more than 2,500 volunteers for a statewide push to register voters and boost Election Day turnout, a massive grass-roots mobilization that is part of the campaign’s national strategy to drive up the mostly Democratic black vote and capture longtime Republican strongholds.

Mr. Obama has vowed to increase black voter participation by 30 percent, which likely would redraw the electoral map by reclaiming once-Democratic Southern states - including Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia - that turned Republican in 1964.

“The Obama campaign sees a huge opportunity in Georgia,” campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said, citing record high unemployment and inflation that left Peach State voters “tired of the failed Bush policies.”

“To win in Georgia, we have dispatched staff into all 159 counties in the state,” Mr. Shapiro said. “Volunteers will work a neighbor-to-neighbor program, where they are trained, equipped and empowered to build a campaign organization in their own neighborhood. Our focus is to register and turn out all Georgians - young people, evangelicals, Republicans and independents seeking change and of course, our Democratic base.”

Georgia’s 15 electoral votes make it one of the largest prizes in the Deep South and key to Mr. Obama’s plan to diminish the importance of swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio by flipping traditionally Republican territory in the South and Southwest.

Blacks constitute a critical segment of the Democratic base, and Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat poised to become the country’s first black presidential nominee, regularly won more than 90 percent of black votes in the primaries.

In the Georgia primary, Mr. Obama routed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 66 percent to 31 percent, a more-than-374,000-vote margin of victory. He won 88 percent of the black vote, which accounted for more than half of Democratic voters, according to exit polls.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, narrowly lost the state primary to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 34 to 32 percent. At the time, Mr. McCain struggled nationally to win support among evangelical voters, a key segment of the party base in Georgia.

Georgia Democrats say Mr. McCain is largely ignoring the state because of his weakness there. They point out that Mr. McCain attended a Republican National Committee fundraising event Monday in Atlanta but then flew out of the state without a single campaign event.

The McCain campaign said it had a strong volunteer organization and was “working for every vote” in Georgia. It also said it was confident the state would remain in the Republican column, especially once voters learn of Mr. Obama’s liberal views, including his opposition to offshore oil drilling and tax cuts for small businesses.

“It would take an incredible effort for [Mr. Obama] to overcome a record that is out of step with voters in Georgia,” McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said. “Georgia is a state with very traditional voters and a conservative [congressional] delegation. It is not likely that the most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate will win a state that is so out of step with his record and his rhetoric on the issues.”

Mr. McCain leads in most Georgia polls, topping Mr. Obama 48 percent to 39 percent among decided voters and 53 percent to 42 percent including voters leaning toward a candidate, a Rasmussen Reports survey late last month showed.

Mr. McCain has enjoyed an 8- to 14-point advantage in every Rasmussen poll this year.

A Democrat has not carried Georgia since 1992, when Bill Clinton narrowly topped President George H.W. Bush 44 percent to 43 percent.

Republican Bob Dole edged out President Clinton in Georgia in 1996, 47 percent to 46 percent, followed by George Bush beating Democrat Al Gore in 2000, 55 percent to 43 percent, and John Kerry in 2004, 58 percent to 41 percent.

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