WASHINGTON — The 2008 general election will pit the best-organized nomination campaign in the history of modern Democratic politics against the battle-tested machinery of the Republican Party, with Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz. each determined to shake up an electoral map that has been virtually static over the past two elections.
Democrats enjoy a highly favorable electoral climate now, created by gloomy attitudes about the state of the country and economy, President Bush's low approval ratings and negative perceptions of the GOP. But as Obama shifts his attention from his primary victory over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to his test against McCain, the electoral map nonetheless foreshadows another highly competitive race in November.
McCain and Obama offer a rare combination of nominees able to poach on the other party's turf. Both have proven appeal to independents. McCain will target disgruntled Clinton supporters; Obama will target disaffected Republicans. Women, Latinos and, especially, white working-class voters will find themselves courted intensely by the two campaigns.
On issues, the differences are stark, starting with views on Iraq but also including the economy, now the dominant issue in virtually every part of the country.
Officials from both campaigns confidently predict that they will steal states that have been in the other party's column in recent elections, and an early analysis suggests there will be new battlegrounds added to the map this year, with Virginia, Colorado and Nevada among them. The Midwest remains the most concentrated competitive region of the country, but advisers to McCain and Obama agree that the election could turn on the outcome of contests in the Rocky Mountain states and the South.
Obama plans to deploy his grass roots forces, now hardened by the grueling campaign against Clinton, to every corner of the country.
"We're going to be playing a lot more offense than they are," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe predicted.
Plouffe said Obama's route to the necessary 270 electoral votes starts with holding every state won by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004 and then focusing on a handful of red states they think are ripe for conversion.
McCain's advisers express equal confidence that their candidate can hit the 270 mark, despite a political environment that Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, called "a major hurdle for us."
McCain's team thinks that his potential appeal to independents and some Democrats makes it possible to prevail in what otherwise looks to be a very tough year.
McCain hopes to tap potential divisions within the Democratic Party by aggressively targeting disaffected Clinton supporters. He hopes those voters will help him hold on to Ohio, which has been critical to Republican success in the last two elections, and bring Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to the GOP side.