FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- As the presidential race heads into the final stretch of the final stretch, the Obama campaign is visiting not just the blue parts of red states but also the red parts, in hopes of peeling enough voters away from John McCain to make a difference.
A look at Barack Obama's schedule over the final month of the campaign shows the candidate has divided his time almost equally between counties President Bush won in 2004 and those John Kerry captured. Obama has held 13 campaign events in Bush counties -- including several that Bush won by more than 10,000 votes, like Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, Fla., and Hamilton and Jackson counties, where Cincinnati and Kansas City, Mo., are located. He has held 14 events in Kerry counties.
The campaign is basing its decisions on which states to target during the final week on a combination of scenarios that would result in 270 electoral votes. Polling, registration and early voting data play a role, as does an area's potential for driving up turnout -- such as Denver, a blue city with a large media market that reaches into nearby red counties.
Months ago, the campaign set out to expand the electoral map so that there were several possible paths to 270, a goal that Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser, said it had accomplished. At this point in past elections, the battleground had been narrowed to two to four states, whereas Obama could be expected to visit between six and eight states in the coming days, Gibbs said.
"If Barack Obama weren't campaigning in the so called 'red states,' Americans would have to question his intelligence, because for him to win the election it requires turning red states blue," wrote McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds in an e-mail. "What is more noteworthy is John McCain's plan to grow jobs, balance the budget and rebuild the American economy will translate into a victory on Election Day in Pennsylvania -- a historically 'blue state.'"
One of the advantages the Democrat's campaign believes it has, in addition to an expanded electoral map, is several principals who can draw big crowds at separate campaign events.
Since Oct. 4, Michelle Obama and Joe Biden have made numerous stops in Ohio, also traveling to places the presidential nominee himself has gone only rarely -- like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the candidate's wife went in September, and West Virginia, where his running mate went last week. The Clintons, too, have campaigned in Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada, all states the New York senator won in the primary. And Michelle Obama will campaign in Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado today and tomorrow to promote early voting.
The last blue state Obama visited was New Hampshire, on Oct. 16. Pennsylvania -- where most polls show he has opened up a solid lead -- is likely to be the only other Kerry state that the Illinois senator visits before Election Day. He's scheduled to campaign today in Canton, Ohio, and Pittsburgh; he then will head to Chester, Pa., Harrisonburg and Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday and is set to rally with Bill Clinton in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday.
"I think every state that we're visiting in the next eight days is a state we want to touch again or is a red state that, even if it's been 40 years, we could win," Gibbs said, pointing to Indiana and Virginia, where a Democrat last won in 1964. North Carolina last went for a Democratic nominee in 1976.
Obama is also likely to make another swing out west, where Colorado and Nevada are the two red states on the battleground map.
"We think we can change the dynamic of a lot of these places from what we've seen in the past," Gibbs said.
Sprint To The Finish
Nearly everywhere his campaign travels, Obama and his surrogates talk about early voting. In Fort Collins, where Bush won in 2004, Obama on Sunday asked the crowd of some 45,000 people to raise their hands if they had voted early and directed anyone who had not yet done so to contact his campaign office for information on how to do so.
"It's easy, it's fun," Obama said. "You'll feel morally superior having already cast your ballot while those lazy procrastinators are waiting until November 4th."
He went on to quip that if anyone in the crowd was voting for "the other guy," they could wait until Nov. 5, quickly adding, "I'm just teasing."
As of Oct. 24, the campaign's data showed Florida Democrats and Republicans were voting early at the same rate, with voters from each party making up about 43 percent of early voters. In New Mexico, 56 percent of early voters have been Democrats, compared with 33 percent Republicans; Democrats also made up 56 percent of early voters in North Carolina, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans almost 3-2.
Democrats made up 53 percent of early voters in Nevada and 50 percent in Iowa; according to data provided by Jon Carson, the campaign's national field director.
The Obama camp's early vote effort has been particularly strong in Florida, where a surge in voter registration means that registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the Sunshine State by more than 650,000. At a rally in Miami on Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson told the crowd, "so goes Florida, so goes the nation." Former Sen. Bob Graham spoke of a "false rumor" that Election Day was on Nov. 4, urging attendees to vote early. But it was Michelle Obama who delivered the most pointed argument, saying she believed Obama would be the underdog until he was sitting in the Oval Office.
"We have to act like he's 20 points behind. That means we can't take anything for granted," she said. "We need you out there talking to your friends and your family members. We need you to vote early and then after you vote early to spend Election Day getting five, six, seven, 10 other people to the polls, because this is the change that Barack is talking about."