Poised for a Flip

(By Jonathan Hayward -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fewer than five months remain before the November election, and, slowly but surely, the outlines of the national playing field are coming into focus.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appears committed to expanding the traditional group of battleground states -- launching his first ad of the general election in 18 states, including 14 that President Bush carried in 2004. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seems to envision a more traditional playing field, concentrating his advertising on 10 (or so) states including quadrennial battlegrounds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

It remains to be seen which approach will prevail. But here's a snapshot of the five states most likely to switch from the Democratic column in 2004 to the Republican one in 2008 (or vice versa). No. 1 is the most likely to flip this fall.

5. Michigan (Sen. John Kerry won with 51 percent in 2004): There's a reason that the endorsements of Obama by former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and former vice president Al Gore both happened in Michigan. Obama's campaign knows that its candidate's decision to skip the state's primary (and all of the agitation that ensued from that choice), coupled with the fact that McCain has shown strength in Michigan (witness his 2000 primary victory there), make the Wolverine State a major challenge. For Obama to win, he must run extremely well in Detroit and Ann Arbor and avoid being swamped in the more Republican-friendly territory covered by the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.

4. Ohio (Bush won with 51 percent in 2004): Obama's chance to lock down Ohio went by the boards when Gov. Ted Strickland removed himself from the veepstakes. With Strickland out of the running, it's clear that Obama will have to put in the time to persuade Ohio voters -- particularly the working-class whites who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the state's primary -- that he shares their values and concerns. Still, Republicans hit something close to rock bottom in 2006, and it's not clear whether the party can recover before November. National Republican strategists are not optimistic.

3. Nevada (Bush, 51 percent, 2004): The growth in Nevada is largely in and around Las Vegas (Clark County) and tends to favor Democrats, but there remains a substantial conservative vote in the rural reaches. McCain and Obama have made appearances in the state in the past week -- a sign that both believe it is up for grabs. Watch the manner in which Obama and McCain address the issue of Yucca Mountain, the proposed permanent dump site for the nation's nuclear waste, a plan that is strongly opposed by Nevadans. During a stop in the state last week, Obama blasted McCain for his proposal to build a string of nuclear plants, a not-so-subtle attempt to remind voters that he opposes Yucca while McCain supports it.

2. New Mexico (Bush, 50 percent, 2004): Bush's victory in the Land of Enchantment was the first by a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. It looks likely that New Mexico will return to its Democratic roots in 2008. Popular Gov. Bill Richardson is interested in a spot either on the ticket or in an Obama Cabinet and will work hard to make sure the senator from Illinois runs well in his home state. The swing voters in the state are Hispanics; they make up 42 percent of the population and will be heavily sought after by both Obama and McCain.

1. Iowa (Bush, 50 percent, 2004): At the start of the 2008 election, Iowa was widely seen as the truest of tossups: Bush won the state by 10,000 votes of out more than 1.5 million cast in the last presidential election. The emergence of Obama, however, and the centrality of the Hawkeye State in launching his candidacy, has turned the state into the best pickup opportunity in the country for Democrats. The massive amount of money Obama spent to identify, organize and turn out voters in advance of the Jan. 3 caucuses looks to be a good long-term investment heading into the general election. In neither of McCain's presidential primary bids did he run an active campaign in Iowa -- a major disadvantage in the fall.


Americans United for Change, an issues-oriented liberal organization, is undergoing a bit of a facelift in advance of the November election. Current Executive Director Brad Woodhouse is taking a leave of absence to help run the day-to-day communications at the Democratic National Committee. While Woodhouse's madcap style -- and e-mail precocity -- are irreplaceable, Americans United will use a double-barreled approach in his absence: Caren Benjamin, a former aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), will be assisted in the day-to-day duties by Progressive Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm run by former Clinton aide Mike Lux. Susan McCue, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), will serve as a general consultant to the group.

One day: Big brains at the nexus of public policy and politics gather in Colorado for the Aspen Institute's 2008 Ideas Festival. Among the expected attendees are former president Bill Clinton and former Georgia senator Sam Nunn, one of the most-mentioned candidates for the Democratic vice presidential nomination.

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