- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The solid Republican South is looking a little less solid lately, with several battleground states giving the Democrats a rare chance to crack open the Republican Party’s electoral lock on the politically conservative region.

Political analysts expect Republican Sen. John McCain to sweep most, if not all, of the 11 Southern states that made up the Old Confederacy. However, some say Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has a shot at scoring upsets in three or four states where the freshman senator is heavily focusing most of his resources and where the presidential race appears close: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

President Bush swept all 11 states in the South in 2000 and 2004, reaping its 153 electoral votes. If Mr. McCain were to repeat Mr. Bush’s performance, Mr. Obama would need to win 70 percent of the remaining electoral votes to get the 270 required to clinch the election - a steep climb that would be almost impossible to reach.

The four target states on the Obama campaign’s radar screen would put 70 electoral votes into his column, significantly reducing his electoral challenge in the rest of the country.

“These are the Southern states where Obama has a chance, but I think John McCain will win the rest of the Deep South” said Merle Black, a noted political science professor at Georgia’s Emory University who has published numerous studies about Southern political trends.

“The thing to look at in these Southern states that have voted GOP in the past is that many of them have the highest black voting population* in America, and that is the foundation upon which Obama is building an attempt to reshape the battlegrounds in some of them,” said Matthew Towery, who heads the Atlanta-based InsiderAdvantage poll, which specializes in the South.

“So he has a chance in Virginia for sure, North Carolina is a possibility, and Georgia would be seen as an upset. If the Obama campaign could put together any combinations of those states, his strategy is to replace the electoral votes that could conceivably be lost in Florida.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts before him and even former Vice President Al Gore largely wrote off the South with the exception of Florida. Mr. Obama, however, has moved a large campaign ground force and major TV ad buys into those four states, where his campaign strategy is to significantly boost turnout among blacks and younger voters and increase his appeal among white voters.

Many analysts, though, question whether younger voters, with notoriously low turnout rates, will turn out this time in significant enough numbers and whether Mr. Obama can overcome Mr. McCain’s substantial double-digit advantage among white voters.

His ground troops are part of a voter-registration army of hundreds of volunteers who are working nearly full time for six weeks this summer registering blacks, Latinos and Hispanics and younger voters, who have been heavily drawn to his candidacy.

In North Carolina, for example, which Mr. Bush carried by more than 435,000 votes in 2004, the Illinois Democrat has a paid staff of nine and more than 150 mostly full-time volunteers who are registering voters.

A survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic group, reported at the end of last month that Mr. Obama trailed his Republican rival by just four points (41 percent to 45 percent) in the state, with Libertarian candidate Bob Barr at 5 percent. However, though Mr. Obama has a 76 percent to 15 percent lead among blacks, Mr. McCain was leading him by 53 percent to 32 percent among white voters.

In Georgia, which has one of the largest black voter populations in the country, the race was even tighter: Mr. McCain holds a slim two-point lead (46 percent to 44 percent), according to an InsiderAdvantage poll on July 2. Mr. Barr drew 4 percent.

“The Obama campaign is saturating television in the state, clearly believing that the 15 electoral votes in Georgia are up for grabs,” PPP pollsters said.

Yet some analysts say Georgia remains a difficult challenge for the Democrats because of a number of factors.

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