Plouffe to Democrats: Calm Down

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Senator Barack Obama greets supporters before speaking at a town-hall meeting on Aug. 18 in New Mexico

David Plouffe is urging Democrats — a notoriously jumpy bunch when it comes to electoral fortunes — to take a deep breath.

There's palpable anxiety among convention delegates here about Barack Obama's failure to separate himself from John McCain in the national polls. But Plouffe, who is more unflappable than his famously unflappable candidate, says the campaign is putting a heavy emphasis on swing voters, and, "we like who these undecided voters are."

Previewing the Obama campaign's fall strategy at a session hosted by TIME, Plouffe predicted Wednesday that it will turn out to be a close election in which most of the currently undecided voters won't make up their minds until after the first presidential debate. Just who exactly these voters are varies from state to state, he added, but the Obama campaign's research shows that they tend to be unhappy about the economy, are two-thirds more likely to oppose the Iraq War than support it, and are largely women. In other words, he suggested, they are far more likely to end up in Obama's column in the fall.

Plouffe also contended that John McCain's attacks on Obama's character, while giving the GOP nominee a short-term boost in the polls, are causing "a real erosion" of the presumptive Republican nominee's image among these swing voters, and particularly among women. "McCain," he said, "is at more of a high-water mark than we are."

What's more, Plouffe added, the McCain campaign has yet to show any signs that it can match the organizational strength of the Obama campaign — or, for that matter, the muscle that the George Bush campaign put into driving up its voter turnout in 2004. Where the Obama campaign is contacting as many as 10,000 people a night in some states, Plouffe said, "one thing we never run into out there is a John McCain field organization."

As for the creeping worry in Denver that Obama's stadium gig — his planned Thursday acceptance speech to a crowd of 70,000 at Denver's Invesco field — could be ammunition for the McCain campaign's effort to paint Obama as a celebrity, Plouffe says, "We think this is something that should be welcomed and celebrated, the fact that we're opening this up to average Americans. It's been a great organizational tool. We think about states. [Colorado] is a big battleground state, and if it slips into the Obama column from the McCain column, his path just got a lot, lot harder. One of our best organizations now in the entire country will be in Colorado as a result of this convention and the activities tomorrow night."

But Colorado is not the only state where Plouffe thinks Obama has the potential to dramatically increase voter turnout — with voters favorable to his candidate. He noted that in Florida, 600,000 registered African-Americans and 900,000 registered voters under the age of 40 did not show up at the polls in 2004. "It's on the margins, but all of these states are going to be won or lost on the margins. We think we're going to have an exceptional field goal unit, and so we think we can win a lot of close races." In other words: Calm down.