Obama to Test 50-State Strategy

Howard Dean and Barack Obama Photo FEBRUARY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (R) embraces Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean before addressing the DNC's 2007 Winter Meeting, Strong Leadership for America's Future, February 2, 2007 in Washington, DC. Obama was one of six presidential hopefuls looking to court the party for its nomination to speak at Friday's session. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Howard Dean;Barack Obama DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” has been controversial but Barack Obama is going to attempt to test it this fall, Sam Stein reports.

Obama will likely start the general election with 180 or so “reliably Democratic” electoral votes. With the goal of getting to 270, the DNC believes it could play a role in carrying the rest of the burden. The party already has more than 200 field staffers on the ground, and grassroots training programs in all fifty states. In addition, new Internet and communications operations have been started with the goal of facilitating participation in, and donations to, Democratic causes.

These might seem like ad-hoc measures. But if Sen. John Kerry had received ten additional ten votes per precinct in 2004, he would have won Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico, and, subsequently, the White House.

But that’s a lot of votes! Presumably, it would have been a Bush landslide had he won 10 additional votes per precinct in states that he narrowly lost.

Still, Obama is a particularly attractive candidate, it’s an unusually bad time to run as a Republican, and there are a lot of open Republican seats, and Obama has a huge fundraising advantage over John McCain. So, if ever there was a time to try to expand the coalition, this would seem to be it.

To the extent that Obama remains relatively popular and a big draw, it’s certainly a good strategy down-ballot, regardless of whether it helps him get past 272 Electoral Votes. If the election is looking tight after the conventions, though, expect to see Obama revert to a more traditional swing state strategy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Smart move by Obama. Dean’s 50 state strategy has been a strong party builder, and with Dean running the DNC, you will not see anything like the spectacle of John Kerry standing there with a blank look on his face while Rove and the swift boaters slapped him around.

    The right has been foolish to be dismissive of Dean. He is tough, smart, and moderate on many issues in addition to being a fiscal conservative.

  2. Tad says:

    Given democrats incredible voter turn out at primaries this year it’s hard for me to believe that this ‘new’ policy won’t yield more electoral votes. Even if it does not, it will likely force McCain to spend money in places he otherwise would not. Something he can hardly afford to do.

  3. Michael says:

    Even if it does not, it will likely force McCain to spend money in places he otherwise would not. Something he can hardly afford to do.

    That’s the big picture behind all of this.

    McCain can afford to fight in the swing states, because the law of diminishing returns reduces the potency of money after a certain point. But if he’s got to fight in too many states Obama’s cash advantage can really come into play.

    Not to mention the fact that McCain may have to spend a larger amount of time trying to help down-ticket Republicans in states he’s certain to win, thereby wasting his limited supply of time and resources.

  4. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    The 50-state strategy is clearly working and Obama is the master of it. Clinton’s campaign did not even understand the rules of delegate selection in many states, which is why Obama wound up with more delegates from huge states that he nominally “lost”, like Texas. Clinton thought she could simply spend money and make speeches but she forgot to connect with the locals on the ground and it partly cost her the election.

  5. Ben says:

    Shouldn’t the title be “Obama to Test 57-State Strategy”?

  6. Mikael says:

    Barack Obama and his supporters should not feel so sure that they have the Democratic nomination all sewed up.

    The internet is swirling with rumors that there is a video out there that contains incredibly racist and inflammatory comments by Michelle Obama:

    Now even the mainstream media is recognizing that these rumors exist, and there are some analysts who are totally convinced that this tape exists. Most seem to believe that the Republicans have it, and that they will release it during the general election campaign when it would have the best chance to ensure that McCain will be elected:


  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    When the Republican 527s start running ads showing Obama along with Ayers, Wright, Pfleger and Rezko as not the people he knew. Just how many votes do you think this man who has the thinnest resume as a candidate for the Presidency, in our history. A man who has not ever managed anything, whats to manage the most complicated nation on earth. I think most of America will reject that possiblity. Only an idiot who cares not for America would vote for Obama, the unknown.