PUEBLO, Colo. -- Even Walter Mondale won his home state of Minnesota, when Ronald Reagan wiped the map with him in 1984. But Barack Obama's top strategist told me Saturday afternoon the campaign is serious about its chances of humiliating John McCain by winning Arizona.
"I really do" think Obama could win the state, Axelrod said after a rally here. "We wouldn't be up if we didn't think so."
Obama aides raised some eyebrows last week by announcing that they'd started running TV ads in three new states: North Dakota, Georgia and Arizona. Axelrod said Obama isn't doing polling in McCain's home turf, but they've "had access" to data that helped them make the decision to play there. (That's probably because Anna Bennett, who's polling for a couple of Democratic House campaigns in Arizona, has also worked on Obama's polling in the Southwest.)
Public polls show Obama breathing down McCain's neck in Arizona, and internal polls for Democrats have always shown it close in some of the state's most heavily populated areas. "Since late spring, McCain's numbers have consistently been in the mid-40s -- lower than where one would expect a favorite son in a Republican state should be," one Arizona Democrat said. "Arizona is rapidly growing, and politically rapidly changing in a way that favor Democrats. That's been tough for many Republicans to accept."
Obama's ads in Arizona are still probably one-quarter feint to draw resources, one-quarter obnoxious move to annoy McCain. But the state would definitely be a battleground if McCain had launched his political career anywhere else, and Republicans are having trouble getting much traction in down-ballot races. And if we've learned one thing this year, it's that you never really know what the voters will do until they do it -- so look for those Arizona returns just in case.