- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alaska is young. Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia have growing populations and many black voters. Montana has seen recent Democratic inroads, and North Dakota has sent only Democrats to Congress since 1986. Indiana borders Barack Obama’s home state.

The Democratic presidential candidate is putting money and manpower in all seven of these traditionally Republican states - at levels unmatched by Republican rival John McCain.

For decades, these states have almost exclusively voted for Republican presidential candidates and have rarely seen any campaign action. Now, thanks in part to demographic and political shifts, they are emerging as new battlegrounds.

“We have the organizational ability and the financial ability to compete there,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said recently. “There is not a head fake among them.”

Undeterred, senior McCain strategist Steve Schmidt said: “We feel very confident about holding these states.” He also expressed optimism that Mr. McCain can win several Democratic-leaning perennial swing targets.

In the seven historically Republican bastions, Mr. Obama has run five weeks worth of TV ads and dispatched dozens of workers to sign up legions of unregistered voters that his campaign believes can be persuaded to support the Illinois senator in droves if courted aggressively. Among their targets are blacks and young people, two constituencies that favor Mr. Obama but historically have been unreliable voters.

Mr. McCain of Arizona is largely absent from most of these states, trusting for now that right-leaning roots will prevail.

Unlike Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama had a presence in all seven during the protracted Democratic primaries, and that could benefit him.

But Republicans - and even some skeptical Democrats - claim Mr. Obama simply is trying to lure Mr. McCain into spending money defending Republican turf so he has less to compete with elsewhere.

Indeed, cash flow is a major factor; Mr. Obama expects to be able to afford to compete most anywhere while Mr. McCain must be more careful with his money because he is accepting public financing and the spending limits that come with it.

Democrats see other dynamics in the states as opportunities, which Republicans say are just delusions.

Of the cluster, Virginia is most likely to go Democratic, so it’s the one where Mr. McCain is competing in earnest.

Mr. Obama of Illinois is advertising statewide and has opened several offices. Putting Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on the ticket could help.

Democrats say the growing numbers of young, left-leaning professionals in the north and the state’s large percentage of blacks - one in five - as well as untapped pools of potential voters make Virginia a ripe target for them. More than 4 million people are eligible to vote but roughly a third are not registered, including a half million blacks and several hundred thousand people age 18-24.

The situation is similar in two other fast-growing Southern states.

North Carolina has seen an influx of Northern retirees settling along the coast and in the mountains, while upper-class and academic transplants from all over flock to the booming economies of the high-tech Research Triangle and the Charlotte banking hub.

Georgia saw Republican gains in recent decades as conservatives moved in during a population spurt. It now has a Republican governor and legislature, and a strong state party organization.

Even so, Democrats see an opening among blacks who now make up 30 percent of Georgia’s population. Even Republicans predict the first black major party presidential nominee will produce the largest black turnout ever.

Mr. Obama also is optimistic because Libertarian Party candidate, former Republican Rep. Bob Barr, is from Georgia and could draw off conservative votes there.

In Indiana, Mr. Obama could benefit from his ties to the populous, heavily black northwest corner that’s within Chicago’s media market. He’s also counting on backers in liberal-leaning university towns like South Bend and Bloomington. Choosing Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a popular two-term governor, as his running mate would give Mr. Obama a boost.

“It can’t be understated that he is from our neighboring state,” said Dan Parker, the state Democratic Party chairman.

Along the U.S.-Canada border, Democratic statewide victories have emboldened Mr. Obama to make plays for Montana and North Dakota. Republicans argue Democrats who win in those states are moderate and Mr. Obama is not. Mr. Obama’s campaign also is counting on residual goodwill from his primary wins in both.

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