Obama's 17 State Strategy

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Jun 13, 2008 at 11:39

While the Obama campaign will keep staff in all 50 states, and while it is keeping its volunteer campaign infrastructure in place in all 50 states as well, today it is sending 3,600 organizing fellows to 17 states. Unless plans have changed in the last seventeen days, the seventeen states are as follows:

In an email to people accepted into their Organizing Fellowship Program, the Obama camp listed the 17 states below as the ones where they need the most resources:

North Carolina
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico

So, Obama will run a 50 state campaign, but it will be layered with a 17 state focus. This isn't a contradiction, at least not as I understand the 50-state strategy. The strategy does not dictate that resources are spent equally across the entire nation, just that some resources are spent everywhere. Certain areas are still more heavily targeted, but no area is ignored.

Overall, I would have ignored Washington, and used those resources on Alaska, Connecticut, Montana and Nebraska-02 instead. (Combined, those three states and one congressional district have roughly the same population as Washington). Given Bob Barr and the large African-American population, Georgia probably makes more sense than an alternate possibility, targeting Indiana and the Dakotas. (Combined, Indiana and the Dakotas have roughly the same population as Georgia).

I look at the list in more detail in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: Obama's 17 State Strategy
Thoughts on the targeted and the targeted-nots:

  • Georgia, huh? This is perhaps the biggest surprise on the list, but the Obama campaign seems ready to make a play for it. One factor might be that Libertarian nominee Bob Barr is from Georgia, and he has won elections here before. As Barr drains votes from McCain, increased African-American turnout could make the state close. Still, even with Barr at 6-8%, McCain still leads here by 10%. I have to believe that Obama has already put Sam Nunn on his short list if he is targeting Georgia, and that makes me very nervous.

  • Not targeting Arizona. Despite implications, even from the McCain campaign, that Arizona might be in play this year, the Obama campaign isn't shooting for it. That is probably pretty smart. While nominees sometimes lose their home states (Gore, for example), when the state already leans toward that party (Bush won Arizona by 6.32% in 2000, and 10.47% in 2004), it seems highly unlikely. Good call to not heavily target the state.

  • No West Virginia: While it is a good move to not target West Virginia with organizers in and of itself, hopefully the Obama campaign will still run paid media there, as southeast Ohio shares media markets with West Virginia.

  • No Indiana: While polling in Indiana is close, apparently the Obama campaign does not think it is a top target.

  • No Maine, Minnesota: Over the past two cycles, Maine and Minnesota were both considered swing states, particularly Minnesota. This time around, the Obama campaign appears to believe they have Minnesota, and Maine's 1st congressional district, in the bag. Avoiding ME-01 because it already leans your way and is only worth one vote makes sense, but what about...

  • No Minnesota, but Oregon?: It is a bit of a surprise to Oregon on this list, but not Minnesota. Pollster.com shows Obama ahead by identical 50.8%-39.0% amounts in Minnesota and Oregon, and both states will also feature competitive Senate elections. Neither really feel like swing states this time, to tell you the truth. But it gets worse when you see...

  • Washington? Really? Obama is ahead by a whopping 16.2% in Washington. In fact, according to Pollster.com, my Presidential forecast, and fivethirtyeight.com,  Obama's Washington lead is surpassed only by his lead in D.C., Hawaii, Illinois and Vermont. If your 5th best jurisdiction is a swing state, then I'm Elmer Fudd. This really feels unnecessary.

  • New Jersey and Oregon, but not Connecticut? While I am a little surprised to see New Jersey on the list, it isn't all that surprising. What does surprise me is that the Obama campaign is hitting New Jersey but not Connecticut, given that the two states are extremely similar in this election. Either way, both will probably be closer than, Oregon, a state that has the same number of electoral votes as Connecticut.

  • Where are the small states? A case could be made for Alaska, the Dakotas, Delaware, Montana, and Nebraska-02 as swing states. While I have no problem avoiding Delaware (it can be reached by PA media and already leans pretty blue anyway), Democrats have been on real winning streaks in the Dakotas and Montana recently, and polls show both Montana and North Dakota in single digits. The calculation must be that these states are simply too small, population wise and electoral vote wise, but with a widely distributed population, for resources to be effectively spent there. Obama avoided South Dakota in the primaries as well.

  • Alaska would have been great: While polling shows Obama down by 7-9% in Alaska, this year it will feature highly competitive congressional campaigns for both the House and the Senate. Also, Anchorage makes up 40% of the state's population, making the population much easier to target. Further, Bob Barr should do well in Alaska, as the state is more pro-third parties than any other in the nation (except possibly Maine), and also has a real libertarian bent. It is a big disappointment to not see more targeting in Alaska, especially given what strikes me as a waste of resources in Washington.

Lots of tricky decisions, but with the exceptions I listed above the fold I generally agree with them. Run a 50 state campaign, but layer it over the top with seventeen highly targeted states. If Obama wins the seventeen states listed above, plus the remaining Kerry states, he will win 379 electoral votes.  

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Georgia (4.00 / 4)
I've read that there are half a million unregistered African Americans in Georgia who could otherwise vote.  I assume the Obama campaign believes an intense voter registration drive can swing the state.

Polls in Mississippi have been closer (0.00 / 0)
and there are a lot of unregistered African-Americans there as well.  Plus a strong Senate candidate.

Saxby Chambliss  

[ Parent ]
I wonder is the Dems have someone (0.00 / 0)
who really knows the state.  Mississippi has been ignored for so long, that I wonder if the state Democratic party can be of real assistance while it's still in it's re-building phase.  That doesn't mean that the Obama campaign or the DNC will ignore the state, but I do understand why they might not put the extra resources there.

Voter registration is going to happen in all of the deep south throughout the summer, anyway.

[ Parent ]
I'm wondering if there will be another round of fellows in early September? (0.00 / 0)
Alaska and Mississippi should be on the list.  Having Obama in the NW will help the down ballot candidates:  Darcy Burner, Jeff Merkley.  And they both need support.  Registering Democratic voters should help them too.  

[ Parent ]
I seem to remember (4.00 / 1)
that this is the list where they need people to travel to.  It may be that CT, MN, etc have enough people in place already.  Indiana they can almost certainly cover with volunteers from Illinois.  Moving to Alaska for the summer might be a bit much to ask of an unpaid volunteer, but hopefully that state is targeted heavily in the fall.  I can't explain the Washington state thing, though.  Does seem like a waste of resources.  Maybe they are only getting a few people.

Heh (4.00 / 1)
I know an unpaid volunteer from the East Coast going to Begich's campaign... And he's no Barack Obama. :)

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
now that I think about it... (0.00 / 0)
Alaska is probably pretty nice this time of year.  Maybe I should sign up :)

[ Parent ]
Less nice in November (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
I summered up there way back when (0.00 / 0)
You could definitely do worse. Northern lights, mild weather, etc.

Watch out, though, for the Alaskan state bird -- the mosquito ;-)

[ Parent ]
I was going to make the same point re Indiana (4.00 / 1)
It's not like Obama needs to worry about his home state and Wisconsin will be out of reach for McCain so Barack can flood Indiana with volunteers any time he wants if it looks close. I actually expect him to win Indiana (he only lost the primary there b/c of the Dittohead mischief vote).

[ Parent ]
Indy (4.00 / 2)
I'm still not sure he will WIN Indiana, but I do think it will be close and McCain will be FORCED to spend there.

[ Parent ]
Chris .. (0.00 / 0)
Do you really think this is all?  Is there any chance that this is the list for public consumption and that Obama will focus a little more attention on places like Montana? .. meaning that Obama will concentrate on more than 17 .. and that the extras will be UTR? .. After all .. you don't expect Obama to lay out all his plans for McCain & Co. to see .. right?

You can't hide (4.00 / 2)
Ad buys, campaign headquarters, staff hires--these things are all pretty visible. Anyway, this is close to a comprehensive swing state targeting list, so I don't think it gives much away.  

[ Parent ]
Yeah .. (4.00 / 1)
but is the TradMed really going to notice if Obama sends staffers or volunteers to Montana now that the primary is over?

[ Parent ]
Centralizing (4.00 / 1)
Maybe he is centralizing some of the staff... which is why he is positioning then on Oregon and Washington.  He sees them as IMPORTANT states, but if numbers hold, they can quickly be moved to Montana and the Dakotas which are NOT very far away.

Maybe he has settled on Schweitzer and figures he already HAS a machine in place.

[ Parent ]
I'd say they're pretty far away (4.00 / 1)
North Dakota is closer to Chicago than Portland, by quite a bit.

[ Parent ]
Washington??? (4.00 / 3)
Oregon, maybe I don't mind so much, because it can help with the Senate race.  But Washington really stood out like a sore thumb.

I agree that Montana and the Dakatos would make a lot more sense.

In fact, I think a "North Carolina to North Dakota" bus tour would be a really super idea.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Could he be concerned with Gregoire? (0.00 / 0)
Just curious...I'm wondering if he sees the down ticket Dems vulnerable, and thus, having an impact on his campaign.

[ Parent ]
I don't expect this volunteer list is as static as (4.00 / 4)
it first appears.

I'm sure the team will be willing and able to shift some folks from Washington to Montana, for example, as the weeks and months pass and the internal and external polling evidence accumulates.

I would really like to see them go after Montana and Alaska as well. I get the point about population density but it's also useful to remember that small states are vastly over-represented in terms of EVs. So switching 10 Montanans might be equivalent to switching 20 Washingtonians as it takes far fewer Montanans in absolute numbers to flip their EVs from red to blue.

this is in keeping with their primary strategy (4.00 / 2)
looking for the most cost-effective votes that is. However, swinging X number of votes in order to secure an extra delegate makes sense in a way that swinging X numbers of votes in a state you won't win anyway does not. I agree, though, that Washington is secure. I'm not sure what his realistic chances are in Montana. Historically it is solidly R territory but the most recent poll I can find was 48 McCain, 43 Obama from April.

[ Parent ]
Also (4.00 / 1)
Georgia doesn't surprise me at all. I think Obama has a very real shot at Georgia given demographics; the proven effectiveness of Obama at organization and registration; Bob Barr; and the fact that Atlanta is a monstrosity of a city with, by now, a lot of transplants and a significant number (obviously still a small minority but a nice chunk of votes nonetheless) of whites who pride themselves on their progressive attitudes toward race.  

17 states, but a different 17 (4.00 / 2)
These aren't the Dems' usual 17 states, because more states are in the bag (seemingly) this year.  That means he can expand into VA, GA etc.  

I put OR and WA down to less familiarity with the West Coast on the part of his people.  They are blue states.

Maybe he thinks because he won CT he is safer there than NJ?   Or maybe he's counting on the anti-Lieberman backlash.  ;-)

It doesn't seem likely at this point he will win all these 17 states, but I do think 340 EVs is within the realm of possibility.  McCaon is not going to wear well, and as women find out more about his positions on things like reproductive rights, he is going down farther.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

Northwest (4.00 / 1)
The Northwest has a tradition of liberal Republicans that McCain seems capable of tapping into.  My mother still thinks of herself as an "Oregon Republican" despite the fact she hasn't voted Republican in 40 years.

It wouldn't surprise me if Obama's internal polling showed his support is still soft out here or, more specifically, McCain's approval was unusually high.

[ Parent ]
NJ may be a little closer than we'd hope for (0.00 / 0)
NJ Republicans seem to be trending back to some level of moderation - Zimmer for US Senate, Lance in NJ-07, Lou Dobbs making noise as a potential guberantorial candidate.  Might make sense to shore up the base there.

Minnesota's probably already in the bag, but between the Republican convention and Franken's ongoing baggage, it makes sense to keep a low profile there for the forseeable future. Plus he's already rallied the troops there with his kickoff speech.  

New Jersey is our version of Lucy pulling the football (4.00 / 5)
away from Charlie Brown at the last minute. Like Charlie Brown, Repubs never learn.

It always polls less blue than it votes so every cycle Republicans get excited about the 'turnability' of some race or two in NJ and every cycle the Dem wins by double figures due to an incredible turnout machine.

As far as I'm concerned, the more the Repubs spend in Jersey the better.

[ Parent ]
The other possibility (0.00 / 0)
is that Obama's is sending his own trained volunteers to NJ in order to show some love to his core allies like Corey Booker (who the machine does not like) and to build a turnout machine that's not overly beholden to the old school bosses.  

[ Parent ]
NJ may be a little closer than we'd hope for (0.00 / 0)
NJ Republicans seem to be trending back to some level of moderation - Zimmer for US Senate, Lance in NJ-07, Lou Dobbs making noise as a potential guberantorial candidate.  Might make sense to shore up the base there.

Minnesota's probably already in the bag, but between the Republican convention and Franken's ongoing baggage, it makes sense to keep a low profile there for the forseeable future. Plus he's already rallied the troops there with his kickoff speech.  

I'd quibble too ... (4.00 / 2)
... mostly on the Washington v. (Nevada or Alaska) front, but if there's one thing that Obama's team proved over the last 18 months, it's that they know how to allocate their resources across a national playing field.

Where they need the most, not all of the resources (0.00 / 0)
My only comment about small states not being on the list is that they don't need a lot of resources to make a difference. I'd expect that larger states would dominate this list since that is where they'll need most of their organizing volunteers.

One more point (4.00 / 3)
This means that Obama is playing offense everywhere. He can afford to do this because of his financial superiority. By playing offense everywhere, he forces McCain to pick and choose where he will play defense. Ignoring states like Georgia or even Mississippi now increases the likelihood of McCain being forced to spend money there later when he's strapped everywhere.

And the opposite is true for Obama. Because of his financial edge, 50-state offensive preparation lays the groundwork for being able to efficiently pick and choose later.

New Jersey makes sense (0.00 / 0)
We can't afford to take it for granted, and Lautenberg is extremely vulnerable in the Senate race and could use some help. It makes sense.

I kinda wonder about Washington and Oregon too, but maybe they're only getting a few people.

I'm hoping that, if Obama can bring in a lot more money over June and July, he'll expand this list to target states like Indiana and some of the smaller red states. Maybe this is just what the campaign has the resources for right now.

I also think this is just (4.00 / 3)
a preliminary target list. And some of these targets could be feints, if you will. The Obama campaign has proven to be nimble and flexible when it comes to allocating resources, and I imagine the target list will evolve as the campaign progresses. I can see the desire to, say, lock down Washington (which was a caucus state, after all) and New Jersey (which he lost by double digits) and then shift help to places like Montana, Connecticut, Nebraska, Alaska etc - which can be covered in a shorter time frame - when the need/opening arises.

I can also see adding states like MS and SC and even TX (my home) at a later date, as a show of confidence that could put the GOP in full retreat mode at the right time. Obama's team has demonstrated a good sense of timing when it comes to making its' push and reaching critical mass. A late push into GOP strongholds can throw a major wrench into a McCain campaign that does not appear to be very agile or well-resourced. Lull them to sleep in the places they take for granted, then shift gears and hit them in the mouth, giving some red state Senate candidates the extra boost they need at just the right time. Rope-a-dope, if you will.

We're still conditioned to view 'swing states' through the Gore-Kerry campaign prism. Obama seems to understand that there's more to it than recent polling (GA is a good example). There are other factors that organizers may have picked up on during the primaries that the GOP and Clinton campaigns might have ignored.

And perhaps the list just EXPANDS rather than shifting....

Oregon (4.00 / 3)
Frankly, I'm thrilled that Obama is paying attention to Oregon, where I live. Although it's looking like he can win it by handy margins, we need his turnout operation for our down-ticket races.

Specifically, we need him to help us elect Jeff Merkley to the U.S. Senate and kick Bush/McCain-enabler Gordon Smith to the curb!

Jeff's a strong progressive (if not the most in this cycle!) and Obama's going to need his help in D.C.: from ending the war, to fighting global warming, to enacting universal healthcare, and achieving marriage equality. Jeff can stand up for Oregon and our nation in a way that Smith never, ever has and never, ever will.

That's what I'm thinking as well. (0.00 / 0)
That the commitment to Oregon and Washington has more to do with down ticket and a working majority.  And in Washington's case, the governorship.

[ Parent ]
Looks like there is agreement about why he's in the NW. (0.00 / 0)
Helping Washington Governor, Oregon Senator, etc.

[ Parent ]
I regard this as a PRELIMINARY List! (0.00 / 0)
We're almost 5 months from the election. It will be easy to move some people from one state to another.

While some people here think Obama has a chance of winning Georgia, I don't believe it at all.

Georgia will vote for a black Democrat when hell freezes over!

I am disappointed in not seeing Indiana in the mix. The polling average in Indiana is McCain + 3.6 and the latest poll has Obama ahead by 1. Perhaps he knows something from his internals in Indiana that is discouraging.

I'm glad he's making an effort in North Carolina and Virginia, but those are real uphill struggles. I don't see him winning in the end, but if he can force McCain to concentrate resources in both, that prevents him from piling everything into Ohio and Michigan.

If I were Obama, I'd be spending a LOT of time in Michigan over the next month trying to mend fences with the voters there. I just don't see how he can win without Michigan. He'd pretty much HAVE to win Ohio then and McCain would be on the offensive. Even then Obama could very well wind up losing if he won Ohio but lost Michigan.

New Jersey could also come off the list in the next month as the polls settle down. New Jersey always teases Republicans, but in the end shatters their hopes (kind of like a "Bizarro" version of Ohio).

More Observations (0.00 / 0)
Oregon has a competitive Senate race, so it makes sense to put some people there.

But Washington makes no sense. I mean, I love Darcy Burner, and Chris Gregoire has a tough reelection fight, but at the expense of competing for Minnesota (with two or three House races, and a Senate Race), North Dakota, Montana or defending the much closer Connecticut.

Support the National Popular Vote for President (4.00 / 1)
Every vote in every state should be politically relevant in a presidential election. And, every vote should be equal. We should have a national popular vote for President in which the White House goes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral vote -- that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule which awards all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state. Because of this rule, candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. Two-thirds of the visits and money are focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money goes to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people are merely spectators to the presidential election.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by 18 legislative chambers (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Washington, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, California, and Vermont). It has been enacted into law in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These states have 50 (19%) of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring this legislation into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote...  


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