CHICAGO — With 100 days remaining in the race for the White House, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama says he has succeeded in expanding the electoral map in his race against John McCain, principally in southern and southwestern states but also in Montana and North Dakota.
"It doesn't mean we're going to win all those states but at least we're making it a contest and giving voters something to choose from," he said in an interview aboard his campaign jet on the way back from an overseas trip.
"Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia are all states where we are competitive," he said, adding he is going "toe to toe" with his rival in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
Before leaving Europe on Saturday, Obama told reporters he might suffer a small drop in the polls after being out of the country for more than a week. In the AP interview and an appearance on NBC's Meet The Press, he indicated he intends to shift his focus quickly toward the economy and other domestic issues in the coming days.
Depending on actions the current administration and Congress take, he told AP a new economic stimulus package may be his first legislative request from lawmakers if he takes office as the 44th president in January. He has called previously for additional tax rebates and other measures to help revive the economy, and intends to convene a meeting on the subject on Monday in Washington.
With little pause after his trip to two war zones, the Middle East and Europe, Obama resumes campaigning later this week in the swing states with stops in Missouri and Iowa as well as a fundraising visit to Texas.
One month before the Democratic National Convention opens, he declined to say whether he has personally interviewed any potential vice presidential running mates. "I'm not going to discuss it," he said aboard his plane.On NBC, he expanded in only the most general terms, saying, "I want somebody who I'm compatible with, who I can work with, who has a shared vision, who certainly complements me in the sense that they provide a knowledge base or an area of, of expertise that can be useful....
Obama said later Sunday that he was disappointed that McCain has endorsed a ballot initiative in Arizona that would ban preferences based on race and gender in that state.
In the AP interview, Obama sidestepped when asked whether a peace accord is possible in the Middle East before another election is held in Israel, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is weakened by a corruption investigation.
"It's hard for me to gauge Israeli politics right now," he said, although he added Olmert had moved forward "in a serious way" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since a meeting sponsored by the Bush administration in Annapolis, Maryland.
While in the Middle East last week, Obama met with both men and said both sides struggle with internal political problems, referring to a Fatah-Hamas split among Palestinians and Olmert's situation. "One of the difficulties that we have right now is that in order to make those compromises you have to have strong support from your people. And the Israeli government right now is unsettled," he said at a news conference in Jordan.
Whatever the short-term impact of his trip, Obama told a group of minority journalists at a Unity conference the longer-term impact will be positive.
"In terms of me governing, being an effective president, that that trip was helpful, because I think I've established relationships and a certain bond of trust with key leaders around the world who have taken measure of my positions and how I operate and I think can come away with some confidence that this is somebody I can deal with," he said.
While Obama was overseas, his campaign announced additional staff in key states as the fall campaign approaches.
"So far at least we've been successful in places that nobody guessed would be successful," he said in the AP interview.
"We have a big map that we're playing with. That's no accident. We said at the beginning of this campaign that one of the changes we'd like to make in our politics was breaking out of this red-blue state divide and going to places that maybe no one has gone to for awhile and trying to make the case for change," he added.
Obama holds a narrow lead over McCain nationally in many national polls, but the presidency is won in a series of state-by-state races.
Of the states that Obama mentioned, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota all gave their electoral votes, a total of 63, to President Bush both times he ran.
New Mexico, with five electoral votes, voted for Bush in 2004 after supporting Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
A total of 270 electoral votes is needed to win the White House.
Overall, Obama expressed satisfaction with the state of his campaign, citing a trip to five countries in as many days with numerous meetings and public events as evidence of its ability to "manage projects of importance with a lot of effectiveness."
He said a desire for change, coupled with his own presence on the ballot, should lead to a high-turnout election.
Obama also noted that attacks by Republicans and their allies in congressional elections in Louisiana and Mississippi in recent months had failed to sway the outcome.
"Obviously those sort of attacks by association are going to be especially ineffective when directed at congressional candidates who don't know me very well," he said. Democrats won both races, in part because of heavy black turnout, picking up seats that had long been in Republican hands.
Asked if be thought those two races mean that Republicans must find a new strategy to defeat him, he said, as he has numerous times, that he expects Republicans to target him this fall "full bore with their usual assortment of negative attacks...I don't think anybody's got any illusion about that," he said.