Par­ties ac­tively cam­paign in en­emy ter­ri­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JOSEPH CURL AND S.A. MILLER

YOUNGSTOWN,Ohio | The two pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees are in­vad­ing en­emy ter­ri­tory, stalk­ing their ri­val’s strongholds in bat­tle­ground states, not nec­es­sar­ily to flip coun­ties to their col­umn but to re­duce the mar­gin of de­feat in piv­otal precincts.

The strat­egy for the fi­nal leg of the cam­paign has sent Sen. Barack Obama into the deep-red ter­ri­tory of the Mid­west, in­clud­ing Cape Gi­rardeau County, Mo., home­town of ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh, where Pres­i­dent Bush won 69 per­cent of the vote in 2004. On Sept. 17, the Demo­crat vis­ited the Moun­tain West, in Elko County, Nev., where Repub­li­cans won 78 per­cent of the vote four years ago.

Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain, mean­while, has forged into the bright-blue ter­ri­tory of North­ern Vir­ginia, where Democrats won Fair­fax County by seven per­cent­age points in the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

He also dropped into the Demo­cratic strong­hold of Trum­bell County, Ohio, where Demo­cratic can­di­date Sen. John Kerry crushed Mr. Bush by 24 points, 62 per­cent to 38 per­cent, and ad­ja­cent Ma­hon­ing County, where Mr. Bush got just 37 per­cent of the vote.

“McCain, rightly, senses he has an open­ing with older, blue-col­lar work­ing house­holds to swipe 40 to 42 per­cent in those coun­ties,” said for­mer White House se­nior ad­viser Karl Rove, who used the strat­egy to se­cure Mr. Bush’s re­elec­tion in 2004.

Lim­it­ing the size of losses at the par­ti­san precinct level can have im­pli­ca­tions on the na­tional elec­toral map. In 2004, Mr. Bush won Ohio by just 118,000 votes of the 5.6 mil­lion cast in the state. Thus, ei­ther can­di­date who can pick up 5,000 votes here, 10,000 there, across the coun­ties won de­ci­sively by the other party in 2004 could widen the mar­gin — or win the state and its cov­eted 20 elec­toral votes.

Ohio is a bell­wether state of long stand­ing — no Repub­li­can has clinched the pres­i­dency without winning it — which is why the two cam­paigns have com­bined for 20 vis­its there since the nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions. The high stakes have pushed Mr. Obama into un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory.

“We’ve seen Obama down here in south­west Ohio,” said Grant Nee­ley, as­so­ciate po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Day­ton in Mont­gomery County, a blue county sur­rounded by red ones. “In the op­po­nent’s back yard, it’s about con­vinc­ing those peo­ple who are still on the fence, who are still ques­tion­ing, to come over to the other side.”

Even though less than seven weeks are left in the marathon cam­paign, sup­port for both candi- dates re­mains soft. A Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity poll two weeks ago found that 12 per­cent of McCain sup­port­ers in Ohio might change their minds, but for Mr. Obama, the num­ber is 17 per­cent — nearly one in five. Some Democrats in the mostly lib­eral Ma­hon­ing Val­ley al­ready are con­sid­er­ing cross­ing to the other party.

“Call it a funny feel­ing, but I never liked Obama from the start,” said Lisa Roberts, 40, a reg­is­tered Demo­crat who works at a sand- wich shop in the food court at South­ern Park Mall in Youngstown.

She backed Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton in the pri­mary, when the New York Demo­crat crushed Mr. Obama by 10 points in Ohio. She said she now might vote for Mr. McCain and wel­comed a visit to the area by the McCain-Palin team.

“He needs to come to Youngstown be­cause of how bad it has got­ten in Youngstown,” Mrs. Roberts said. “The econ­omy is down. Crime is up. It’s not a nice place any­more.”

The Democrats re­sponded by dis­patch­ing Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr., Mr. Obama’s run­ning mate, on a two-day bus tour through the same swath of Ohio, in­clud­ing Youngstown on Sept. 18. But the McCain cam­paign’s push in the re­gion has en­er­gized Repub­li­cans in Trum­bull County, a solidly Demo­cratic county of about 217,000 peo­ple.

“I’m used to los­ing bat­tles here, but the feel­ing I’m get­ting from peo­ple is it is go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive,” said Jack Deal, 65, a Repub­li­can precinct com­mit­tee­man in War­ren, the county seat.

He ex­pects plenty of Democrats in Trum­bull County to cross over to the Repub­li­can ticket.

“I guar­an­tee that,” Mr. Deal said on a re­cent af­ter­noon, sit­ting on the band­stand at Court­house Square in War­ren. “Even a lot of Democrats think Obama is too far to the left for their taste. I’m hear­ing that from a lot of Democrats.”

Mr. Deal said the new­found ex­cite­ment for the McCain cam­paign could be mea­sured by the high de­mand for tick­ets to the event Sept. 16 in Vi­enna, Ohio, where Mr. McCain and his run­ning mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, spoke to a crowd of about 5,000.

“The tick­ets are go­ing like crazy,” he said on Sept. 15. “The gov­er­nor has cap­tured peo­ple’s at­ten­tion — Gov­er­nor Palin. Peo­ple want to see what she’s like.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Not con­ced­ing an inch: Demo­cratic vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. speaks Sept. 17 in Maumee, Ohio — a state where both cam­paigns are tr ying to win ever y vote.

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