Both McCain and Obama believe they can win at least a few states recently dominated by the opposing party, chipping away at the now-familiar pattern where Republicans won states in the South and the heartland, Democrats took the coastal states and upper Midwest and a few crucial swing states decided the winner.
Were looking at a much larger and more unpredictable playing field than we saw in the last few election cycles, said Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant and a former aide to McCain during his 2000 presidential bid.
Obamas people correctly see historically Republican states where they think they can be competitive, Schnur said. But its pretty clear Obama also loses ground to McCain in some states that have been safe for Democrats in the past.
Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, has nearly clinched victory in his Democratic nominating race against Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.He already has turned his focus to the general election with trips in recent weeks to battlegrounds such as Michigan, Florida, Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado. McCain, an Arizona senator who has clinched the Republican nomination, has been focusing on the general election for two months.
Strategists for both candidates are scanning opinion polls, voter registration lists and demographic reports to find states they can win in their quest for the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House. Those votes are awarded to the popular-vote winner in each state.
Most of the focus will be in the big battleground states that have proven crucial in recent presidential elections, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004, and Florida and Ohio, won last time by Republican President George W. Bush.Both campaigns also will target 11 states decided by 6 percentage points or less in the close 2004 presidential election narrowly won by Bush.
Kerry won six of those battles Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Bush took five Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico.
Obama hopes a surge in Democratic voter registration, along with record turnout among young and black voters, can help propel his message of change and break down partisan boundaries that have hemmed in the partys recent nominees.
Democrats see major opportunities in the West, where they have made strides as the Hispanic population grows even though Obama has struggled to win over Hispanics.