Plouffe sounds confident

With four days to go, the Obama campaign manager discusses strategy and early vote returns.

By Thomas Schaller
Published October 31, 2008 2:35PM (EDT)

I just listened to the state-of-the-race media call conducted by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. Plouffe talked a lot about early voting, volunteer efforts on the ground, with specific focus on several states in response to questions from the media. As best I could transcribe his comments in real time, here are key excerpts:

“We still remain confident” in all the Kerry states we’re trying to defend, said Plouffe. He said “we feel good about” where the campaign is in the battleground states George Bush won, citing Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia. And in Florida, Missouri and Montana “we have a credible path to win.”

Plouffe spoke at length about what he sees as encouraging results from early voting. In Nevada, for example, he says 43 percent of Democrats voting are “new or sporadic-voting Democrats,” and in North Carolina that figure is 19 percent. He added that many of the Democrats voting early “have never voted in a general election before” and that, overall, “we like what we’re seeing in early voting.”

In response to questions, including two from Florida beat reporters, Plouffe discussed some states in specific detail:

Florida: “We are doing much better with Hispanics in Florida than was the case in 2004 – Puerto Rican voters, Colombian voters, younger Cuban voters. Bush beat Kerry in Florida by a healthy double-digit margin among Hispanic voters in 2004, and we think we’re going to win them.” He said the state features one of the “biggest pools of sporadic-voting Democrats.”

Georgia: “We did a lot of work in Georgia. We stopped advertising there ... but we have a great organization on the ground and it’s still there. If you look at the early vote, we’re doing well there. We think we see a pathway there. We have 4,800 neighborhood captains in Georgia. Those are the people driving the early vote number there.”

Arizona: “We think things have tightened up in Arizona. We are running a positive ad there ... [because we] think a positive ad there can help make a case. We have a lot of volunteers out there, and we’re doing well with Hispanic and suburban voters in Maricopa County ... If someone else had been the Republican nominee, [Arizona] would have been a battleground like its Southwestern neighbors. Our internal data suggest that this could be a very, very close race. Independent voters in the West are leaning very heavily toward Sen. Obama. We see that [in Colorado] and we see that same pattern in Arizona. It’s enough in the realm of the possible that we want to put a little extra effort in the end.”

In response to a question about whether the campaign might be getting too far flung or aggressive in redder states at the expense of battlegrounds, Plouffe said the campaign has the resources to be ambitious but, at the same time, they have never lost sight of the key states. “Nothing we’re doing is taking away from our efforts in the core battlegrounds.” He noted that, while “[t]he McCain folks have complained about spending ... their spending levels are quite high in the last week,” particularly in Florida, and that the Obama team is cognizant of not getting overconfident in these core battlegrounds.

The best question was the last, from the Baltimore Sun's Paul West, who asked about the Obama team’s projections for total turnout and the possibility that, as some pundits and pollsters are projecting, the bulk of the still-undecided votes will break for McCain.

“We are not going to reveal our turnout projections” for strategic reasons, Plouffe responded, though he said he believes McCain pollster Bill McInturff’s much-discussed national turnout projection of 130 million “will be low.” As for undecided voters, Plouffe said: “We spend a lot of time looking at soft voters” and he is aware of those “suggesting that 1 in 7” voters are still soft in the preferences. “We think that number is high.” In other words, that there is less up for grabs for McCain in the final days than some, including McInturff, are speculating.

“The most important group is not undecideds, but the people who have recently converted to Sen. Obama,” Plouffe asserted. “And they are very sticky. We do not think the undecideds will break 75, 80 or 90 percent for McCain. In some states we think they will break evenly. The notion that [undecideds are] somehow a pocket of hidden McCain votes is something we reject.”

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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