CHICAGO — What do states like Georgia, South Carolina, North Dakota and even Arizona have in common?
They’re all reach states that the Obama campaign now believes could be in play.
Thanks in part to an astonishing $150 million take in September, the Democrat has his eyes on some unlikely prizes, including McCain’s own home turf.
“Our strategy all along has been to expand the playing field," said David Plouffe, Obama’s meticulous and cautious campaign manager. "People thought we were crazy, but it is paying off.”
Granted, he was listing these off the top of his head, and didn't reveal the campaign's actual state-by-state committments, but still — it's news nonetheless.
“We’re in a pretty good position right now,” concedes Plouffe. “We’re competing in and for states no one thought would be in play.”
It appears to be part of a larger campaign strategy to win big with the Electoral College — and not settle for a narrow November victory.
Spread the wealth?
What else will come of this major moolah? Well, we know one thing, it's not going to the other Democrats eager to maximize the party's majorities in Congress.
On a visit to Obama headquarters here in Chicago, I asked Plouffe about the "spread the wealth" idea.
The Obama campaign has “all we can handle,” he said.
Rather than funnel cash directly to Senate and House candidates — which Plouffe said would be legal — the campaign argues that its ground-level organizing work in the states on behalf of all Democrats is worth millions, and more than makes up for any cash donations the campaign might make.
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Plouffe cited North Carolina as an example.
“We have done extensive registration and turn out work, and that is paying off for everyone,” he said. In the Tar Heel state, he said, the grassroots work has helped Democrat Kay Hagan pull ahead of Sen. Liddy Dole.
“That wouldn’t be happened without our effort there,” Plouffe said.
Less than giddy at Obama HQ
Given the state of the race, might think that the atmosphere would be giddy in Obama headquarters on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago.
When I walked in for my first visit in months the atmosphere was the same as it was then: quiet, purposeful, and no-nonsense.
On what looked like a vast open trading floor, the twenty- and thirty-somethings went about their business, none of them in coats and ties, many of them looking like graduate students, would-be lawyers, and MBAs crashing a collaborative research project.
Lessons from New Hampshire
On an easel outside the entrance, the first person to work that morning — a retired school administrator named Mary Shepard Hughes — had written an inspiration and an a warning: “TWO SHORT WEEKS. TWO LITTLE WORDS: NEW HAMPSHIRE.”
In a campaign that has, from the start, functioned with incredible smoothness overall, the unexpected primary loss of New Hampshire to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton still rankles — and serves as a cautionary tale.
But the campaign took away lessons from that setback. “Hillary was attacking us pretty hard and we didn’t respond enough, or quickly enough,” Plouffe told me. “We learned that you’ve got to deal with everything.”
Keeping all the cash on hand is one way to make sure they can respond to anything McCain might throw out in the last two weeks.
The Obama campaign has returned fire — hard — on everything from Bill Ayers to taxes.
“They remember how John Kerry was 'swift-boated' and they want the cash on hand to prevent that this time,” said a top Obama fundraiser here. “They’re not going to make the Kerry mistake."
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