- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

Central to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s argument that she would be the better Democratic presidential nominee are her Ohio victory, her wins in the West and lead in Pennsylvania — with her underlying message that Sen. Barack Obama can’t carry such swing states in November.

Mr. Obama, who rallied more than 20,000 at Penn State yesterday, disagrees, and charges that her campaign is using an old map in a new environment. His advisers say Mrs. Clinton is writing off potential Democratic pickups such as North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri.

“Red states are going to matter this November,” Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat who supports Mr. Obama, told reporters recently.

Mr. Culver pointed to a Des Moines Register poll in his state showing Mr. Obama would beat presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain 53 percent to 36 percent in Iowa, which Democrats lost in 2004.

Mrs. Clinton is quick to remind voters that if Democratic Sen. John Kerry had captured Ohio in 2004, he would have won the presidency.

“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said after beating Mr. Obama by 10 percentage points there on March 4.

“It’s a battleground state. It’s a state that knows how to pick a president,” she said. “If we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win the battleground states, just like Ohio.”

In Pennsylvania, where she holds an average lead of 16 points over Mr. Obama, she tells voters, “The Keystone State is key.”

But Obama supporters note that while Pennsylvania was considered a swing state, Democrats won it in both 2000 and 2004. This cycle, Mr. Obama has said he would compete in the South and that the party must shake up its game plan of holding blue states and putting all its resources into capturing swing states like Ohio.

“We simply cannot afford to have another election where we have a very narrow playing field and no margin for error,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, noting polls that show Mrs. Clinton losing to Mr. McCain in states such as Colorado and Oregon.

The Obama team considers the red states of North Carolina, which votes in May, and Virginia, which Mr. Obama won in February, as chances for pickups against Mr. McCain. Rasmussen polls in both states last week showed Mr. McCain ahead of either Democrat, but by much narrower margins in Mr. Obama’s case.

Mr. Obama cites his wins over her in such “red states” as Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas — he won the Kansas caucus over Mrs. Clinton by 49 points — as proving he runs stronger outside the traditional Democratic base. Kansas’ Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius, who supports Mr. Obama, said “the right Democrat” could win states like hers in November.

The Clinton campaign dismisses those primary wins, saying those overwhelmingly Republican states — Mr. Bush carried Kansas by 25 points in 2004 — are unlikely to be close in November, and a victory over another Democrat in a Democratic contest doesn’t suggest otherwise.

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer also suggested Mr. Obama is more likely to “eject” states from the Democratic column “that we need to carry in a general election,” such as Florida and Michigan. Mrs. Clinton won both states, but the votes do not count because the states violated party rules. Mr. Obama is resisting calls for new elections there, which Mr. Singer said would put him in a difficult position with those states’ “disenfranchised” voters in November.

Team Clinton also recently sent reporters a SurveyUSA poll showing a 47 percent-47 percent Obama-McCain tie in Massachusetts, while the former first lady would beat Mr. McCain by 13 points.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson highlighted her wins in the battleground states of New Mexico and Nevada, which each favored Mr. Bush in 2004.

“There are a host of states where we are well-positioned to do well that Senator Obama is not,” he said.

Pro-Obama Democrats have worried privately that high turnout among Republicans in the fall could cost Democrats congressional seats in such red states, and many believe Mrs. Clinton would drive Republican turnout.

Mr. Plouffe said his boss would be best for down-ballot candidates across the country because Mrs. Clinton “would provide a negative atmosphere” for Democrats and would “need to thread the needle” to win the White House in November.

During the Clinton administration, Democrats witnessed a “decimation,” he said, adding: “We lost the Senate, we lost the House, we lost a ton of governorships, we lost state legislatures.”

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