Campaigns refine strategy: Obama expands map, McCain targets Reagan Democrats

As both presidential campaigns have started airing their first ads and hiring staffers in various battlegrounds, the time has come for more definite decisions on what states ought to be contested and what constituencies ought to be targeted. Last week, Obama started to air his first general election ad in a series of 18 states (14 of which were won by Bush in 2004) that included Indiana, North Dakota and Alaska. This week, Obama's campaign manager confirmed to Politico that they are intending to contest all of these 14 states and extended the list of states the campaign is looking at to... Wyoming and Texas.

Hildebrand suggested that, while the campaign is unlikely to air advertisement here, they are thinking about the possibility of sending paid staffers to organize in such states in order to help down-the-ballot candidates. Indeed, the difficulty of Democrats to win congressional races in Wyoming or Texas in a presidential year is that they are dragged down by the top of the ticket. But Obama has enough money to take care of his own business and afford to also ease the way for red state Democrats.

Of course, Obama can expect something in return: Red state Democrats are notoriously weary of supporting their party's presidential nominee but for Obama to make sure he is not a drag could make them more supportive in return. Given that we are seeing a few Democratic representatives decline to endorse Obama (as they had refused to endorse Kerry) and that the special election in MS-01 last May had Travis Childers struggling to explain that he had no connection to Obama, this would be a welcome development.

Now, we are also getting a better idea of McCain's strategy. As I have noted many times before, the Republican's biggest challenge is the shift in partisan breakdown. With the LA Times poll, the Newsweek survey and countless SUSA state polls all showing a dramatic improvement for Democrats since 2004 and as much as a 15% partisan ID edge for Obama's party, all Obama needs to do to win this election is secure the vote of registered Democrats and not fall too far behind independents.

In other words, if all three partisan groups vote roughly according to the 2004 patterns, the 3% Bush victory would transform itself into an Obama blowout -- all thanks to the changes in partisan affiliation over the last four years.

McCain then must convince registered Democrats to vote for him -- and I insist on the word "must," as this is not simply a strategy meant to put his opponent on the defensive (as is, for instance, Obama's appeal to moderate Republicans) but a matter of absolute survival. The Arizona Senator is perhaps the only GOPer who can even entertain any hope of succeeding at such an effort, though the latest national polls suggest that the road is getting tougher. Now, McCain's general election ad buy gives us an idea of how McCain intends to appeal to registered Democrats.

Marc Ambinder details McCain's latest ad buys to find that McCain is targeting former Reagan Democrats and working-class voters, groups among which Obama was very weak throughout the primary. In Pennsylvania, for instance, McCain is not spending in the Philadelphia market but in the state's blue-collar regions. The same pattern holds in Ohio. The Appalachia region in a number of states will also be targeted heavily by McCain given that these are all are areas in which Hillary Clinton crushed Barack Obama, sometimes by gigantic margins.

By rolling out proposals like offshore drilling and by insisting that Obama is a country club elitist, Republicans are hoping to drive a wedge between the beer track and the wine track constituencies of the Democratic Party and thus offset Obama's advantage in partisan identification. And the high stakes of the success of inspiring distrust among Democrats about their candidate guarantees that the tactics will only get more ugly as we get closer to the election.

More generally, it is striking that the list of McCain's buys is more traditional, with no unexpected expense popping up. And also telling is McCain's heavy spending in Minnesota, since the Obama campaign did not include that state in the list of states it is running its ad. McCain looks committed to keeping that state competitive -- perhaps a reflection of the likelihood that he will select Gov. Pawlenty as his running-mate or perhaps just a reflection of McCain's confidence that he will appeal to Midwestern independents.

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