Obama Banks on the Ground Game

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Obama campaign volunteer Peggy Tyus helps to register voters at a weekly farmers market in Virginia in August

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Virginia is one of 10 states, including Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, that went for President George W. Bush in 2004 but which the Obama campaign believes will be among the most closely contested in November. "Those, plus New Hampshire and Wisconsin, are going to be the toughest till the end," predicts Steve Hildebrand, the man in charge of Obama's ground game.

The Obama campaign has placed an emphasis on expanding the electoral map. They say they will have staff in all 50 states, even if those states are not even remotely in play. In Texas, where McCain leads Obama by 11 percentage points, they already have 15 paid staff, which they insist is an investment for the future. "We certainly don't think it's a waste of money to be there," Hildebrand says, "There's a potential House seat we could pick up there and there's a real shot at winning back the State Senate this fall. With redistricting coming up it's very important as to who controls the legislative body there."

Obama may believe in investing in a mandate to govern — helping to expand Democrats in Congress and in local and municipal races — but that won't matter a whole lot if he fails to win the presidency. "This 50-state strategy, I hope it's real," says Bill Steiner, the RNC's director of strategy. "But I actually think what it's for is to cover up some of their weakness in targeted states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. States that Democrats can't afford to lose. This is about quality vs. quantity."

Not surprisingly, the Obama campaign takes issue with that assessment. Over Labor Day weekend, while waiting for Obama to finish an event, David Axelrod, the nominee's top strategist, noted that their strategy is broader than McCain's and therefore requires a lot more leg work, but that it has more of a potential payoff. "We're going into Nov. 4 with many different scenarios to get to 270 electoral votes," he says, squinting at airplanes buzzing overhead, part of Cleveland's annual air show. "I think their path is very, very narrow, as is their thinking."

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