50-State Strategy

Today’s Electoral Map: Obama: 274.4 EV ; McCain: 263.6 EV.

Barack Obama–in following the strategy that turned him from the dark horse underdog into the Democratic Presidential nominee–is putting in place a 50-state strategy:

Senator Barack Obama’s general election plan calls for broadening the electoral map by challenging Senator John McCain in typically Republican states — from North Carolina to Missouri to Montana — as Mr. Obama seeks to take advantage of voter turnout operations built in nearly 50 states in the long Democratic nomination battle, aides said.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will travel to North Carolina — a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 32 years — to start a two-week tour of speeches, town hall forums and other appearances intended to highlight differences with Mr. McCain on the economy. From there, he heads to Missouri, which last voted for a Democrat in 1996. His first campaign swing after securing the Democratic presidential nomination last week was to Virginia, which last voted Democratic in 1964.

[…]

Mr. Obama’s a 17-day economic tour, starting Monday, comes as polls suggest acute public anxiety about the economy, fueled by a new wave of bad news, including a surge in the unemployment rate and a record rise in the cost of oil.

The economic push is intended to highlight the distinctions between Democratic and Republican proposals on health care, jobs, energy prices, education and taxes. Mr. Obama is expected to deliver a series of policy speeches and visit voters in small towns and rural areas.

While Mr. Obama’s economic tour will take him through several states where he registered strong performances in the primary season, including Iowa and Wisconsin, he will also visit other general election battleground states where he lost primaries by substantial margins, including Ohio.

Democrats lose because we cede too much ground to the Republicans; we write off entire states for years on end, focusing on a tiny handful of media-anointed ‘swing states.’  Problem is, Republicans usually have better organizations in those states, and they usually have enough money to out-organize and out-campaign us.  Thus, you see Presidential election hinge on a tiny margin of victory in a state like Ohio.

Obama is changing the game in two ways–first, by abandoning the old model of fundraising, reliant on bundlers and wealthy donors, the Obama campaign has used the internet to collect unprecedented sums of money through small donations from regular Americans.  By harnessing the power of the internet and small donors in a way that top-down Republican campaigns can’t, the GOP’s traditional fundraising advantage evaporates.

Second, he’s competing everywhere.  The point of the 50-state strategy isn’t necessarily to win places like Utah or Idaho; the point is to make the Republicans spread themselves thin by having them compete in places they wouldn’t normally have to spend any money or effort.  It’s a ‘death by 1000 cuts’ strategy aimed at sapping them of their resources, so they’re less competitive in closer states.  In addition, the 50-state strategy is supposed to make roads in states that Democrats could win if they just tried, like Colorado and Virginia this cycle.

The point is, you can’t win if you never show up to play in the first place.  The myopic focus on media-proclaimed ‘swing states’ has lost Democrats elections time and time again.  Right now, the American people are hungry for change, but they won’t vote for us if we never show up on their doorsteps and ask them to.  The 50-state strategy won us both houses of Congress in 2006, bringing us victories in states we never would have believed we’d win.  This time around, it’s going to change the electoral map–possibly for good.

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