- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008





Last night, the Republican Party nominated Sarah Palin as its vice presidential candidate - a non-traditional pick that will help John McCain in some very traditional places. The Alaska governor is no stranger to blazing trails. And in this election she needs to do so in some familiar GOP geography. Here’s why.

The Obama campaign’s desire to reshape the electoral map is one of the most underreported twists in this presidential cycle. Beginning in the early 1970s, Republicans transformed the South and West into solid GOP bastions. Democrats lost the White House any time they failed to nominate candidates who could not compete in these regions. The gods of electoral votes punished them for not breaking through in these areas - think McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry.

Most media reporting about the Obama campaign focuses on his broad national message: the “yes we can,” “change” and “bringing people together” narratives. But equally transformative is the tactical side of the Democratic nominee’s efforts.

Democrats’ talk about running a 50-state, national campaign is a bit of a misnomer. Roughly 30 states are still solid red or blue - already lost or won for all practical purposes. Only a huge game changing event might alter this dynamic. So, when it comes down to it, Obama will focus on about 17 or 18 states: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. Some of these are traditional battlegrounds based on recent voting patterns - Florida, Ohio and Michigan fit that category. But others - at least by recent standards - represent new political terrain for Democrats in presidential elections. Virginia, North Carolina and Montana are examples of the Obama campaign’s desire to create new political geography. David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, confirmed this approach in a recent interview with Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com: “All we care about is these 18 states,” Mr. Plouffe said.

How does the Obama campaign transform the electoral map? It’s through shoe leather organization. Mr. Plouffe’s point in the interview about relying on their own “identification, registration and canvassing” deserves elaboration. First, he made clear that he disregards national polls. Second, why focus on surveys if your campaign can provide daily data that includes new registration numbers and reports about how many people committed to Obama campaign staff that they intend to vote for the Democratic candidate? Those names and address get put into a data file, and in the days leading up to the election these citizens are closely monitored and targeted in a massive get-out-the-vote effort.

The Bush campaign deployed the same tactic in 2004. Four years ago, Republican operatives in states like Ohio and Florida collected daily metrics about registration numbers and results of contacts with potential voters. Operatives knew exactly how many people the campaign needed to get to the polls in each precinct, generally who those voters were and in most cases exactly where to find them. As the election neared, they reached out to previously committed Bush voters and ensured they voted. An approach like this is not poll-driven - it uses data driven by hard numbers attached to real people with e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Mr. Blumenthal writes this, referring to the same interview with Plouffe: “He (Plouffe) cited several examples, including Florida where he claimed that roughly 600,000 African Americans that [sic] were registered but did not vote in 2004, with more than half of that group coming from African Americans under 40 years of age. ‘If we just execute on turnout’ in Florida, he said, ‘we’re going to be bumping up on our win number.’ ” Mr. Blumenthal adds this: “They also believe they can keep states like Virginia and North Carolina competitive if they ‘blow the doors off turnout.’ ” The Obama campaign’s efforts to reshape political geography is based less on its candidate’s national message of hope and more on hard numbers and data on potential pools of untapped Democratic voters in unlikely places. Democrats’ chances of winning come down to something new and something old: fresh technology aimed at identifying potential voters in a few non-traditional states, and old-fashioned elbow grease ensuring they get to the polls.

And that’s where Sarah Palin comes in. Mr. McCain needs a conservative bulwark to protect traditional GOP geography, while he broadens the party’s appeal among swing voters. Republicans will make history tonight by nominating their first woman vice president - a person who will help protect traditional Republican territory from Obama’s ambitions to reshape the electoral map.

Gary Andres is vice chairman of Dutko Worldwide.

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