Why Arizona Is Not a Lock for McCain

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Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty

Barack Obama campaigns in Phoenix with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, left, and Caroline Kennedy

Eight miles down the road from John McCain's picturesque Arizona ranch, two dozen Democratic volunteers sat crammed into a second-floor strip-mall suite above a nail salon on Sunday morning making calls to persuade Arizonans to vote for the man running against their longtime Senator.

"I think [Obama] can win here," says Jane Anderson, 64, a retired principal from nearby Clarkdale. The independent voter heard about the effort "in Wal-Mart, of all places" 10 days ago. "Everyone on line was so enthused about Obama, and they were talking about how there was a place we could volunteer, so I asked where it was, and here I am," she says, flipping her long, dark hair over her shoulder. Anderson has returned nearly daily to the tiny Cottonwood office, rented four months ago by volunteers pooling their resources.

If the Republican nominee were not John McCain, Democrats would have long ago started making a big play for Arizona, which, like its Western neighbors, has been tilting Democratic. Obama is ahead in Nevada by 6.2 percentage points, in New Mexico by 7.3 and in Colorado by 5.5. Yet after trailing by as much as 20 points this summer, Obama now finds himself down in McCain's home state by just 3.5 points — an average of Arizona polls that show Obama down as little as 1 point or as much as 5. Which is why the Obama campaign announced late last week that it would buy advertising in the Grand Canyon State in a late bid to win Arizona's 10 electoral votes. It is "a very, very close race," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters in a conference call on Friday.

There are many observers who don't buy Plouffe's spin. They view the move into McCain's home turf as simply a tactical way to bait him to spend precious time and resources in the last few days, all the while boosting the aura of inevitability around Obama. And the Democratic nominee can certainly afford it. But Arizona Democrats insist they truly do have a legitimate shot at winning here. "Obama has taken us up to the 30-yard line. Now it's our job to get the field goal," says Maria Weeg, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party. Democratic volunteers have been activated by the thousands, many returning from Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. The party has orchestrated hundreds of thousands of calls and tens of thousands of door knocks during the last four days of the election.

(See pictures of John McCain's final push on the campaign trail.)

(See pictures of voting machines.)

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