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Unify and conquer

"Unify and conquer" Continued...

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

Obama has already made multiple trips to Iowa and Ohio, where Bush won in 2004 by 1 and 2 percentage points, respectively. Democrats also need to court Michigan and Florida, borderline states largely ignored by Democratic candidates during the primaries. (The Democratic Party penalized the states for moving forward their primaries earlier in the year.)

The senator will also go west, where he's already spent time wooing voters in New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. Bush won all three states by 5 points or less in 2004, picking up 19 electoral votes. Kerry fell short in the Electoral College by 19 votes that year.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, an Obama supporter, said the three-state sweep is critical: "If we win these three states, plus the traditional Democratic base, he is president."

But the West won't be won without a fight. McCain has represented Arizona for more than 20 years, and he has enjoyed popularity among Hispanic voters for his comprehensive immigration reform bill that failed to pass last year but positioned him as a sympathetic voice for immigrants.

Raise money

This is one move Democratic candidates have mastered in mind-boggling fashion. By March of this year, both Clinton and Obama had raised so much money their electronic fundraising reports couldn't be processed by basic spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel 2003.

On this front, McCain has the most work to do. Though he had raised a hefty $96.6 million by the end of April, Obama had raised more than $265 million. (Clinton raised $214 million in the same period.)

Obama's haul puts him in a comfortable position: Though the candidate has spent three times as much as McCain during the primary season, he also has twice as much cash on hand. (Obama has spent $218 million and reported $46 million cash on hand going into May.)

The one bright spot for the GOP: The Republican Party is outstripping the Democratic Party in fundraising. By the end of March, the Republican National Committee (RNC) had raised $31 million, while the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had raised only $6 million. Party leaders say the difference is largely due to donors giving large amounts of money to Democratic candidates instead of the party during the extended primary season.

Whatever the reason, the divide puts the RNC-which can spend money on McCain's behalf-in a comfortable position ahead of the conventions: With a significantly larger budget, the RNC can launch a large-scale media campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee early on-something the DNC can't afford to do this summer.

Talk about campaign issues

While Clinton is famous for her wonkish approach to policy issues, Obama has long faced criticism that his campaign is big on style, short on substance.

On the campaign trail, Obama has spoken in sweeping terms about the need for change on issues like the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq, while spending less time outlining how to accomplish such change. Out of hundreds of Obama campaign staffers, The Washington Post reports only seven are devoted to policy.

McCain began pounding Obama on policy issues in May, saying the senator had too little information to make decisions about the war in Iraq. McCain-who has traveled to Iraq eight times since the war began-pointed out that Obama has made the trip only once. (Obama visited Iraq in January 2006 as part of a congressional delegation.)

Needling the candidate, McCain offered to accompany Obama to Iraq to help him gain a better understanding of the war. Obama called McCain's proposal a political stunt but said he's considering a trip to Iraq later this summer.

Look for Obama to spend more time fleshing out policy details on other issues this summer as well.

Craft a message and unify the party

While Obama hammers out policy, the candidate will continue hammering in what the University of Virginia's Sabato calls the central message of his campaign: "I'm not Bush." The second part of that message, according to Sabato: "You're going to get Bush's third term with McCain."

Sabato told WORLD that Obama would focus on the areas where voters are most disgruntled: "Bush, Iraq, and the economy. That's it. It's the whole campaign, and it's a strong campaign."

Rallying voters against "a third Bush term" may also help unify a party divided after an acrimonious primary battle. Whether McCain can withstand that drumbeat depends partly on his ability to distance himself from Bush, a difficult task for a Republican nominee.

Confront the X-factor

This may be the trickiest move of all: The biggest challenges candidates face may be factors neither can anticipate.

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