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Obama plans national push on ads, turnout

Senator Barack Obama is drawing up plans for extensive advertising and voter-turnout drives across the nation.
/ Source: The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama is drawing up plans for extensive advertising and voter-turnout drives across the nation, hoping to capitalize on his expected fund-raising advantage over Senator John McCain to force Republicans to compete in states they have not had to defend in decades.

With his decision to give up public financing and the spending limits that go with it, Mr. Obama has added several seasoned hands to his advertising team, a harbinger of a multifaceted television campaign that people inside and outside Obama headquarters said would grow well beyond its already large presence in 18 states.

Future commercials could run on big national showcases like the Olympics in August and smaller cable channels like MTV and Black Entertainment Television that appeal to specific demographic and interest groups.

He is also dispatching paid staff members to all states, an unusual move by the standards of modern presidential campaigns where the fight is often contained to contested territories.

Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said they did not believe he necessarily had a serious chance of winning in many of the traditionally Republican states. They said he could at least draw Mr. McCain into spending time and money in those places while swelling Democratic enrollment and supporting other Democrats on the ballot.

Tailoring the message to the voter
Mr. Obama’s strategists are studying data from focus groups, magazine subscription lists and census studies, the first steps toward an intensive door-to-door drive, using volunteers overseen by a growing staff of organizers.

Their aim is to reach voters with messages tailored to their interests through mail, e-mail and word of mouth.

Free from the constraints of public financing, Mr. Obama’s budget for the rest of the year could exceed $300 million, campaign and party officials have said. But his fund-raising slowed in May, when the campaign raised $22 million — $10 million less than in April and a large decline from the record amounts he was taking in earlier this year. The decline was evidence that he might have to invest substantial time at fund-raising to match the levels he set in the first quarter this year.

Still, Mr. Obama’s allies said his success at assembling a huge network of donors should give his campaign the resources to build a far-reaching command-and-control center, something that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lacked when he was the Democratic nominee in 2004. Mr. Kerry’s depleted coffers and reliance on public funds forced him to count on outside groups to sign up voters and run advertisements on his behalf.

With Mr. McCain’s acceptance of public financing restricting him to a budget of $84.1 million this fall, party officials say Mr. Obama’s decision to opt out of the system is well worth the criticism he has received this week for doing so, which even came from some allies.

“To have these enormous resources just gives you so many strategic options,” said Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Mr. Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “If John Kerry had these resources and had stayed outside the system of public funding, I believe he’d be president today.”

Aides to Mr. Obama, of Illinois, have warned their donors against being overly giddy. His campaign manager, David Plouffe, last week urged top fund-raisers to intensify their work as they seek to tap into those who previously supported only Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. Obama will help out by personally attending money-raising events from coast to coast over the next few weeks.

McCain can turn to GOP committee
Republicans said they expected Mr. Obama to show a sizable financial advantage, but it might not help him if the race came down to the handful of states that decided the last few presidential elections. In that case, they said, the $84.1 million in public financing that Mr. McCain would receive would be enough for everything he needed to stay competitive.

Mr. McCain also will have considerable help from the Republican National Committee, which has far outpaced the Democratic Party in fund-raising and still holds the vaunted voter identification and turnout machinery that President Bush’s campaign built with his chief strategist, Karl Rove, and the former Republican chairman, Ken Mehlman.

And Republican officials said in interviews that Mr. McCain, of Arizona, had a strong political identity that has kept him at or near parity with Mr. Obama in several polls, and would help carry him through the general election.

“While we will be outspent in this election, we will have the necessary resources to drive Senator McCain’s message of reforming government, achieving prosperity and delivering peace,” said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Even with the fund-raising dip in May, aides to Mr. Obama expect to have something Mr. McCain likely will not: enough resources to eliminate the hard choices campaigns have traditionally faced when balancing the competing needs of their various state efforts.

“These resources allow you to not make decisions based on financial limitations,” Mr. Plouffe said in an interview.

Referring to a state that has long leaned Republican, he added, “If we want to go play in a state like Georgia” in the fullest way, “we’ll be able to do that.”

Obama expands staff
By the end of the month, the Obama campaign will have a director and staff members in all 50 states. While some states will have only a few workers assigned to them, the biggest battlegrounds will have scores, many of whom will arrive by the Fourth of July.

The campaign is in many ways building on a strategy championed by Howard Dean, the party chairman who has been pressing Democrats to establish a presence in all states rather than focus primarily on battlegrounds. But Mr. Obama is putting his own stamp on the plan by moving much of the party’s operations from Washington to his headquarters in Chicago and installing Paul Tewes, one of his top organizers, to oversee it.

Party leaders in Republican-leaning states like Georgia and Montana are already reporting an influx of paid Obama staffers and volunteers who were sent there to begin registering potential Obama voters.

Mr. Obama’s team is also sending resources to Virginia, which no Democratic presidential candidate has won since 1964. Abbi Easter, treasurer of the state’s Democratic Party, said Mr. Obama had dispatched five paid staff members to the state to begin organizing a voter registration drive.

“I’ve been doing Democratic politics in the state for 25 years, and this is such a novelty I feel like a kid at their first Christmas,” Ms. Easter said.

She said she was also expecting help from as many as 100 of the 3,600 “Obama Organizing Fellows,” a group of full-time volunteers fanning out across the country to oversee local registration efforts. The mobilization is being helped along by Mr. Obama’s robust Internet operation specializing in reaching out to the younger voters who use social networking sites like Facebook.

Campaign modeled on Bush's
But Mr. Plouffe said the volunteer program was modeled after the one that Mr. Bush’s aides devised in 2004, which sent supporters door to door to spread the word about the president in their own neighborhoods — a personal touch informed by detailed lists of neighbors’ occupations, voting histories, pet causes and hobbies.

Four years ago, Democrats and their liberal allies scrambled to match the vast lists of personal voter information gathered by the Republicans through public records and consumer data banks.

The Democratic National Committee has since greatly improved its voter information file, which is now at Mr. Obama’s disposal. But his aides were also considering buying another huge list with information on tens of millions of Americans. The list is owned by Catalist, a private concern co-founded by a longtime Democratic operative, Harold M. Ickes.

In an interview, Mr. Ickes said Mr. Obama’s campaign aides were particularly interested in new information his company had gathered about cable television viewing habits.

Obama campaign officials said that was because they were considering a tailored commercial campaign on niche cable channels that could give Mr. Obama special access to groups that his campaign deemed crucial for victory, like the young audience for MTV and the African-American viewership for BET.

“It’s a great opportunity to get people information that may be particularly germane to them,” David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist, said of the specialty cable commercials, perfected by Mr. Bush in 2004.

Open to broadcast TV
Yet Mr. Obama’s team has looked into advertising in as many as 25 states and has made clear its openness to running commercials on the broadcast television networks.

All of this, of course, is going to take more than the $43.1 million that Mr. Obama had in the bank as of last month. Officials said they expected that Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raisers could bring in a total of $75 million in the coming weeks.

But, members of both parties said, Mr. Obama had his real advantage in his own group of 1.5 million donors, many of whom have given small amounts and could be readily tapped again.

“They’ll continue to give,” said Eli Pariser, the executive director of the liberal group MoveOn, an Internet fund-raising pioneer. “As long as he doesn’t treat them as an A.T.M., but as partners in the movement.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

This story, , originally appeared in The New York Times.