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Ready to attack Obama / If some money arrives

Ready to Attack Obama, if Some Money Arrives

The New York Times


Published: June 22, 2008

Senator Barack Obama is drawing up plans for extensive advertising and voter-turnout drives across the nation, hoping to capitalize on his expected fund-raising advantage over Senator John McCain to force Republicans to compete in states they have not had to defend in decades.

With his decision to give up public financing and the spending limits that go with it, Mr. Obama has added several seasoned hands to his advertising team, a harbinger of a multifaceted television campaign that people inside and outside Obama headquarters said would grow well beyond its already large presence in 18 states.

Future commercials could run on big national showcases like the Olympics in August and smaller cable networks like MTV and Black Entertainment Television that appeal to specific demographic and interest groups.

He is also dispatching paid staff members to all states, an unusual move by the standards of modern presidential campaigns where the fight is often contained to contested territories.

Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said they did not believe he necessarily had a serious chance of winning in many of the traditionally Republican states. They said he could at least draw Mr. McCain into spending time and money in those places while swelling Democratic enrollment and supporting other Democrats on the ballot.

Mr. Obama’s strategists are studying data from focus groups, magazine subscription lists and census studies, the first steps toward an intensive door-to-door drive, using volunteers overseen by a growing staff of organizers.

Their aim is to reach voters with messages tailored to their interests through mail, e-mail and word of mouth.

Free from the constraints of public financing, Mr. Obama’s budget for the rest of the year could exceed $300 million, campaign and party officials have said. But his fund-raising slowed in May, when the campaign raised about $22 million — almost $10 million less than in April and a large decline from the record amounts he was taking in earlier this year. The decline was evidence that he might have to invest substantial time at fund-raising to match the levels he set in the first quarter this year.

Still, Mr. Obama’s allies said his success at assembling a huge network of donors should give his campaign the resources to build a far-reaching command-and-control center, something that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lacked when he was the Democratic nominee in 2004. Mr. Kerry’s depleted coffers and reliance on public funds forced him to count on outside groups to sign up voters and run advertisements on his behalf.

With Mr. McCain’s acceptance of public financing restricting him to a budget of $84.1 million this fall, party officials say Mr. Obama’s decision to opt out of the system is well worth the criticism he has received for doing so, which even came from some allies.

“To have these enormous resources just gives you so many strategic options,” said Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Mr. Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “If John Kerry had these resources and had stayed outside the system of public funding, I believe he’d be president today.”

Aides to Mr. Obama, of Illinois, have warned their donors against being overly giddy. His campaign manager, David Plouffe, urged top fund-raisers to intensify their work as they seek to tap into those who previously supported only Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. Obama will help out by personally attending money-raising events from coast to coast over the next few weeks.

Republicans said they expected Mr. Obama to show a sizable financial advantage, but it might not help him if the race came down to the handful of states that decided the last few presidential elections. In that case, they said, the $84.1 million in public financing that Mr. McCain would receive would be enough for everything he needed to stay competitive.

Mr. McCain also will have considerable help from the Republican National Committee, which has far outpaced the Democratic Party in fund-raising and still holds the vaunted voter identification and turnout machinery that President Bush’s campaign built with his chief strategist, Karl Rove, and a former Republican chairman, Ken Mehlman.

And Republican officials said in interviews that Mr. McCain, of Arizona, had a strong political identity that kept him at or near parity with Mr. Obama in several polls and that would help carry him through the general election.

“While we will be outspent in this election, we will have the necessary resources to drive Senator McCain’s message of reforming government, achieving prosperity and delivering peace,” said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Even with the fund-raising dip in May, aides to Mr. Obama expect to have something Mr. McCain likely will not: enough resources to eliminate the hard choices that campaigns have traditionally faced when balancing the competing needs of their various state efforts.

“These resources allow you to not make decisions based on financial limitations,” Mr. Plouffe said in an interview.

Referring to a state that has long leaned Republican, he added, “If we want to go play in a state like Georgia” in the fullest way, “we’ll be able to do that.”

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