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Team Obama lays out electoral map strategy

By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The mood in President Barack Obama’s camp is picking up these days, with his poll numbers inching northward and Republicans mired in what could turn out to be a prolonged, expensive battle for the GOP nomination.

When Obama campaign officials look at a map of the U.S., they see any number of viable routes toward the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.

In a fundraising pitch Thursday, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina laid out five potential pathways to the magic number.

The Obama campaign likes to start with the states that John Kerry won in the 2004 election, on the theory that these rock-solid blue states are a lock for the Democratic nominee. Building on the 251 electoral votes that Kerry received, the Obama campaign believes that it can win a second term if any of the following strategies pans out.

— The West. The Obama campaign says that one way to get over the top is to win Colorado and Nevada, states that Obama carried in 2008. “We believe if we register more voters, start putting teams in place that can start talking to voters, we can win these states,” Messina said.

— Florida. Florida, Florida, Florida. Al Gore’s presidential hopes collapsed  amid the Florida recount in 2000. The Obama campaign believes that if it wins Florida’s 29 electoral votes, the race is over. “We can’t just have a Florida strategy, but Florida is the easiest way to 270 votes,” Messina said.

— The South. We’re not talking about Mississippi, Arkansas or Alabama. But the upper South is within reach. Obama won both North Carolina and Virginia in 2008, the first Democratic candidate to pull that off in decades. Messina said that if Obama can win what he called the “New South,” he’s set up to beat the Republican nominee. It’s no accident that the Democrats are holding their nominating convention in Charlotte, Messina said. “We put the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, N.C., in part because we believe so deeply in this map,” he said.

— The Midwest. Obama will be hard-pressed to win Indiana next time around. Yet the Obama campaign says it can build a winning strategy around victories in Ohio and Iowa. Obama has blanketed Ohio in the three years of his presidency. And his first trip outside Washington in 2012 is to — you guessed it — Ohio. He’ll head to Cleveland on Jan. 4 for a speech on the economy.

— Beyond.  No one in Obama’s campaign leadership expects him to have an easier time of it in 2012 than in ’08. Unemployment is high, Congress is gridlocked and voters are disillusioned with Washington. Still, anything can happen in an election year, and the Obama campaign hopes to pick up certain states that went Republican in ’08. The most promising is Arizona, Messina said. Arizona is the home state of the 2008 Republican nominee, John McCain, so Obama didn’t compete there last time. In this election, though, Arizona may be in play. “There are hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who are unregistered in Arizona,” Messina said. “We’re excited about our opportunities there.”

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