Despite the lousy economy and the president’s sagging poll numbers, Democrats aren’t ready to cede Ohio and even privately insist they think it’s winnable.
Dean argued that newly elected Republican governors and the budget and labor clashes in Ohio and Wisconsin will help keep those battleground states in the Obama column.
“There is going to be a huge backlash, and Obama is most likely going to win Ohio as a result of all this,” he said. “You can’t overreach in American politics, and what they’ve done is given Obama new life.”
The Democratic official believes Ohio will be competitive but not unwinnable, thanks in part to a planned large financial investment in on-the-ground talent there. Jeremy Bird, who runs Obama’s 2012 field program, served as the campaign’s 2008 state director in Ohio.
Privately, Democrats say Indiana will be much tougher to hold. Missouri is likely to come off the 2012 battleground map, given that it has only trended more conservative since Obama narrowly lost it in 2008 and Sen. Claire McCaskill will be facing a tough re-election battle and a strengthened Show-Me State GOP base.
But Democrats are putting Arizona on the 2012 map.
Obama largely avoided Arizona in 2008 because it was Sen. John McCain’s home base. In the final weekend of the campaign, when last-minute poll numbers showed Obama inching to within the margin of error, he bought some air time in Phoenix. Ultimately, the Democrat lost McCain’s home state by 9 points.
This cycle they consider it winnable, with a likely competitive race for the open Senate seat and a contentious immigration battle still igniting partisans on both sides.
“Arizona is a new state that will be in play,” the Democratic official said.
A Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 campaign said Obama was only able to expand the playing field into states such as Indiana because he was an unknown quantity.
“Now that he has a record, he’ll be judged on the economy in these battleground states. And that’s going to limit where he can play,” the strategist said.
Because of reapportionment, Obama would have a net of six fewer Electoral College votes in 2012 than he scored in 2008. Democrats say those numbers don’t worry them.
For their part, Obama’s team has publicly played up the fact that things won’t be so easy this time around, if only to help drum up grass-roots support and donations. “The electoral landscape will be more challenging,” campaign manager Jim Messina recently told supporters in a Web video.
Democrats insist there will be offices with volunteers and paid staff in all 50 states before the general election gets going. “This is the first time a candidate will go live with a field program that will have been active for four years,” the official said, referring to the work the DNC’s Organizing for America has done since Obama took office. “We’re in good shape in these swing states.”
But Dean, who built the 50-state strategy for the Democrats’ blockbuster 2006 cycle, scoffed at claims that Obama’s team will be able to blanket the nation.