- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

Despite the talk about a changing electoral map and new strategies, Barack Obama is pulling back from his 50-state plan as John McCain has solidified Republican support, turning November’s presidential election into a contest for the same handful of states that have swung the last two contests.

The first round of post-convention polling shows Mr. McCain, in picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, has enthused Republicans. Meanwhile Mr. Obama, the Democrats’ nominee, is pulling back resources from Georgia, a state he once boasted he would flip Democratic; is stepping up efforts to hold Democrats in Pennsylvania and Michigan; and is showering attention on Ohio, the lynchpin in Republicans’ 2004 victory.

“The Republican brand has been revived, and the conservative base has been solidified,” said pollster John Zogby. “McCain has had a few good weeks, so now what we have to do is see if Obama can come back because it is still very competitive.”

And once again, as so often in past elections, Ohio and its 20 electoral votes, may be the decisive prize.

No Republican has won the presidency since Abraham Lincoln without carrying Ohio, but a Quinnipiac University Poll showed Thursday that Mr. Obama had lengthened his lead in Ohio by 49 percent to 44 percent, compared with a narrow 1 point lead in its Aug. 26 survey. That’s the reverse of a Fox News/Rasmussen poll earlier this week that found Mr. McCain with a seven percentage point lead.

Since his convention ended two weeks ago, Mr. Obama has made at least five campaign stops in Ohio. His wife, Michelle, visited Cincinnati this week and running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. observed the Sept. 11 anniversary Thursday at an American Legion post in suburban Cleveland. This weekend, the campaign will deploy former primary rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to Ohio to appeal to her army of women and blue-collar supporters in the Buckeye State.

“Senator Clinton is a strong champion of working Americans, and will make the case that Barack Obama will bring the change we need, creating jobs, making sure families can afford health care and standing up for the middle class,” said Tom Reynolds, spokesman for the Obama campaign in Ohio.

President Bush won Ohio in 2004 by 51-49 percent over Democrat John Kerry, and those 20 electoral votes helped him to a 286-251 victory in the electoral college, and the McCain campaign is stepping up its own efforts to keep the state red, or Republican, promising Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin will be fixtures on the campaign circuit there.

Mr. McCain announced Mrs. Palin’s selection as running mate in Dayton, Ohio, two weeks ago, drawing a crowd of 10,000. And in campaigning this week in Lebanon, Ohio, the two drew 16,000.

“We’re confident that the McCain-Palin agenda of shaking up Washington, with a record to support it, will make the difference in the fall,” said spokesman Tucker Bounds.

Ohio joins Pennsylvania and Florida as the big three prizes - since 1960, nobody has won the White House without taking two of them. Coupled with Michigan, any of those states could swing the election.

The Quinnipiac survey of swing states found Mr. McCain leading 50 percent to 43 percent in Florida, but trailing Mr. Obama 48 percent to 45 percent in Pennsylvania.

“White women, a key demographic group in any national election, appear to be in play, with some movement towards McCain in Pennsylvania and Ohio,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.

The Obama campaign thinks a new map is possible without winning a big state.

In a briefing for reporters Monday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said they expected to hold all of the states won by Mr. Kerry in 2004, which gave him 251 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win.

The campaign hopes to take Iowa and New Mexico out of the Republican Party’s column, which would push its total to 264 - putting it within six electoral votes that the campaign expects to find in at least one of six remaining tossups: Colorado, Indiana, Virginia, Nevada, Nebraska or Florida.

“When you look at the battleground states that will determine the presidency, we feel very good about where we are,” Mr. Plouffe told reporters.

But Republicans expect to hold red states that the Obama camp has targeted, and hope to pick off Pennsylvania or Michigan, where the Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Mr. Obama a narrow two percentage point lead. A Republican victory in either state would be devastating for Mr. Obama’s chances.