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Obama Faces the Test Dean Failed: Broadening Support

Despite a big fundraising edge, Sen. Barack Obama has been unable to close a double-digit deficit in polls.
Despite a big fundraising edge, Sen. Barack Obama has been unable to close a double-digit deficit in polls. (By Charlie Neibergall -- Associated Press)

"I'm puzzled by this Barack Obama 'second act' stuff," Gibbs said. "I'm watching the play, and we're still in Act One. And it's pretty good."

"We've got a book we're trying to write," Plouffe said. "It's less about this chapter and the next chapter. We've got a strategy, and we're going to keep executing it."

At this point in the 2004 campaign, Dean had done relatively little to build effective organizations in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Federal election records show Dean spent $177,402 in Iowa and $116,830 in New Hampshire during the first six months of 2003.

Obama, by contrast, has spent $866,000 in Iowa and nearly $500,000 in New Hampshire, according to the latest numbers. The money went mainly to the nuts and bolts of a ground campaign: rallies and events, mailing lists, office space, and salaries for nearly 100 people on the Iowa payroll and about 50 more in New Hampshire.

In Iowa in particular, Obama has some structural advantages that Dean lacked. He starts with a sometimes overlooked boost: The state shares a border with his home state of Illinois, and cities such as Davenport and Dubuque are part of media markets where Obama has been on the air since 2004. And Obama advisers say their success at fundraising will allow them to build a get-out-the-vote operation that could rival or eclipse Clinton's in the early states.

Plouffe described Clinton in a recent memo as the "quasi-incumbent" and argues that she is leading simply because voters know her better. With its millions in the bank, Obama's campaign has already launched ads in Iowa that emphasize his biography, noting his achievements working with both parties to get legislation passed in the Illinois legislature.

Obama aides insist he will not change from his generally positive message to take on Clinton directly. That would be difficult to do anyway, some party strategists note, because he is presenting himself as a different kind of politician. But over the past few months, his tone has shifted on the issue that most distinguishes the pair: Iraq.

Obama opposed the war, while Clinton voted for it in 2002. Without naming the senator from New York, Obama is increasingly stressing that point.

He said in Iowa last week that there are no "do-overs" on an issue such as war, invoking a phrase Clinton has used to say she will not apologize for her war vote. In Nevada on Friday, Obama dismissed Clinton's proposal to have Congress deauthorize the war, calling the plan "convoluted."

Dean's early opposition to the war helped generate much of his campaign's money and energy, but Obama supporters say the senator's run will be different because the energy behind his candidacy is not based solely on Iraq.

"It's not just antiwar people" who support Obama, said William Daley, a backer who was chairman of Gore's campaign in 2000, but those with "a broader desire for change."

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.


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