By ADAM NAGOURNEY and JEFF ZELENY, NYT
WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama’s general election plan calls for broadening the electoral map by challenging Senator John McCain in typically Republican states — from North Carolina to Missouri to Montana — as Mr. Obama seeks to take advantage of voter turnout operations built in nearly 50 states in the long Democratic nomination battle, aides said.
On Monday, Mr. Obama will travel to North Carolina — a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 32 years — to start a two-week tour of speeches, town hall forums and other appearances intended to highlight differences with Mr. McCain on the economy. From there, he heads to Missouri, which last voted for a Democrat in 1996. His first campaign swing after securing the Democratic presidential nomination last week was to Virginia, which last voted Democratic in 1964.
With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton now having formally bowed out of the race and thrown her backing to him, Mr. Obama wants to define the faltering economy as the paramount issue facing the country, a task probably made easier by ever-rising gasoline prices and the sharp rise in unemployment the government reported on Friday. Mr. McCain, by contrast, has been emphasizing national security more than any other issue and has made clear that he would like to fight the election primarily on that ground.
Mr. Obama has moved in recent days to transform his primary organization into a general election machine, hiring staff members, sending organizers into important states and preparing a television advertisement campaign to present his views and his biography to millions of Americans who followed the primaries from a distance.
In one telling example, he is moving to hire Aaron Pickrell, the chief political strategist of Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio — who helped steer Mrs. Clinton to victory in that state’s primary — to run his effort against Mr. McCain there. In another, aides said, he has tapped Dan Carroll, an opposition researcher who gained fame digging up information on opponents’ records for Bill Clinton in 1992, to help gather information about Mr. McCain. That is the latest evidence that, for all the talk on both sides about a new kind of politics, the general election campaign is likely to be bloody.
Mr. Obama’s campaign is considering hiring Patti Solis Doyle, a longtime associate of Mrs. Clinton who was her campaign manager until a shake-up in February, the first of what Mr. Obama’s aides said would be a number of hires from the Clinton campaign.
Recognizing the extent to which Republicans view Michelle Obama’s strong views and personality as a potential liability for her husband, Mr. Obama’s aides said they were preparing to bring aboard senior operatives from previous Democratic presidential campaigns to work with her, a clear departure from the typical way the spouse of a candidate is staffed. Mrs. Obama’s operation would include senior aides devoted to responding to attacks and challenges to her, particularly if she continues to campaign as much as she has so far.
To counter persistent rumors and mischaracterizations about his background, Mr. Obama’s advisers said they would also begin using television advertising and speeches in a biographical campaign to present his story on his terms. But they suggested that their research had found that voters were not that well acquainted with Mr. McCain, either, signaling that the next few months will see a scramble by the two campaigns to define the rival candidate.
“Even though Senator McCain has been on the scene for three decades, there are a lot of people who don’t know a lot about him — and there are a lot of people who don’t know about us,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior strategist. “Both campaigns are about to begin filling in the gaps.”
Mr. Obama has sought in recent weeks to deal pre-emptively with issues that shadowed him in the primary and on which Mr. McCain has already challenged him. At a speech to Jewish leaders in Washington, he markedly toughened his statements about how he would deal with Iran after coming under attack for his pledge to meet with its leader; he now almost always wears an American flag pin on his lapel after Republicans sought to raise questions about his patriotism by pointing to the absence of one.
While the lengthy, contentious Democratic primary fight against Mrs. Clinton exposed vulnerabilities in Mr. Obama that the Republicans will no doubt seek to exploit, it also allowed him to build a nearly nationwide network of volunteers and professional organizers. While early assertions by presidential campaigns that they intend to expand the playing field are often little more than feints intended to force opponents to spend time and money defending states that they should have locked up, Mr. Obama’s fund-raising success gives his campaign more flexibility than most to play in more places.
Mr. Obama’s aides said some states where they intend to campaign — like Georgia, Missouri, Montana and North Carolina — might ultimately be too red to turn blue. But the result of making an effort there could force Mr. McCain to spend money or send him to campaign in what should be safe ground, rather than using those resources in states like Ohio.
Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said that the primary contest had left the campaign with strong get-out-the-vote operations in Republican states that were small enough that better-than-usual turnout could make a difference in the general election. Among those he pointed to was Alaska, which last voted for a Democrat in 1964.
“Do we have to win any of those to get to 270?” Mr. Plouffe said, referring to the number of electoral votes needed to win the election. “No. Do we have reason to think we can be competitive there? Yes. Do we have organizations in those states to be competitive? Yes. This is where the primary was really helpful to us now.”
Mr. Plouffe also pointed to Oregon and Washington, states that have traditionally been competitive and where Mr. Obama defeated Mrs. Clinton, as places the campaign could have significant advantages .
Still, the Republican Party has a history of out-hustling and out-organizing the Democratic Party in national elections. The question is whether the more organically grown game plans that carried Mr. Obama to victory in Democratic primaries and caucuses can match the well-oiled organizations Republicans have put together.
Mr. McCain’s advisers dismissed the Obama campaign claims as bluster. “We’re confident about our ability to win those states,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain.
And Mr. Obama is not alone in trying to fight on what is historically unfriendly territory. A central part of Mr. McCain’s strategy is an effort to pick up Democratic voters unhappy with the outcome of the primary, and to compete for states that have recently voted Democratic, like Pennsylvania, where Mr. Obama was soundly beaten by Mrs. Clinton, and Michigan, where Mr. Obama did not compete in the primary.
Mr. Obama’s aides would not say when he would begin his television advertising campaign, saying that disclosure would help their opponent.
A Republican strategist said that, according to party monitoring services, Mr. Obama’s campaign had inquired about advertising rates in 25 states, including traditionally Republican states like Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. That would constitute a very large purchase. President Bush, whose 2004 campaign had the most expensive advertising drive in presidential history, usually ran commercials in a maximum of 17 states.
The strategist said that the Republican intelligence was that Mr. Obama’s campaign was indicating to television stations that it was considering beginning its commercials in mid-June, or possibly after July 4. But Mr. McCain started an advertising campaign on Friday that surprised Democrats with its size and expense — more than $3 million — and it was unclear if that would prompt Mr. Obama’s strategists to change their timetable.
Media strategists in both parties said that Mr. Obama’s campaign would have enough money to run a break-all-records advertising campaign. In theory, at least, he will have enough money to run one set of prime-time national advertisements on broadcast television, and a concurrent and harder-hitting campaign against Mr. McCain in closely contested states.
A national campaign on broadcast television — which has traditionally been prohibitively expensive for presidential campaigns — could make sense in this case, particularly if the Obama campaign looks to expand the playing field as significantly as Mr. Plouffe suggested it would.
Mr. Obama and a team of senior advisers spent Friday morning in Chicago planning the next few weeks. In addition to presenting his economic policies, Mr. Obama is also exploring a foreign trip and a biographical tour before the party’s convention in August.
Mr. Obama’s a 17-day economic tour, starting Monday, comes as polls suggest acute public anxiety about the economy, fueled by a new wave of bad news, including a surge in the unemployment rate and a record rise in the cost of oil.
The economic push is intended to highlight the distinctions between Democratic and Republican proposals on health care, jobs, energy prices, education and taxes. Mr. Obama is expected to deliver a series of policy speeches and visit voters in small towns and rural areas.
While Mr. Obama’s economic tour will take him through several states where he registered strong performances in the primary season, including Iowa and Wisconsin, he will also visit other general election battleground states where he lost primaries by substantial margins, including Ohio.
At Mr. Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago, where for two months separate teams had focused on Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, aides are adjusting their duties. One area in particular where Mr. Obama is adding muscle is a team that is tasked with tracking down rumors and erroneous statements circulated on the Internet.
“The growth of the Internet, which has been a fabulous asset for helping to build the Obama community, is also a place where erroneous e-mails live,” said Anita Dunn, a senior campaign adviser. “That’s a challenge I don’t think previous campaigns have had to deal with to the extent that the Obama campaign has.”
Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.