Democrat Dreams For 2008 Go Beyond White House

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Barack Obama's Democratic party is dreaming big this summer--and it’s not just about the presidential race.

Obama has launched a broad approach to the general election against Republican John McCain. Exploiting his fund-raising edge, Obama has pledged to run campaigns in all 50 states, many of them very Republican red.

Consider Obama's initial 18-state ad buy. It touched such improbable targets as Alaska, where George Bush won by 25 percentage points four years ago, and North Carolina, where Bush won by 12 points even though North Carolinian John Edwards was on John Kerry’s ticket.

Why do some Democrats love it? Because in red states like Alaska, North Carolina and others, Democratic candidates for the Senate and the House stand to benefit from the Obama campaign's work in registering and turning out voters.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who chairs the party’s Senate campaign committee, tells me that Obama’s strategy "fits like a glove" with his. Even in states such as Mississippi where Obama isn’t now advertising, and may not campaign much in the fall, his campaign workers can help swell the African-American vote for Senate and House candidates alike.

Democratic candidates already have plenty going for them this year. Anxiety about the Iraq war is down, but anxiety about the economy is way up. President Bush’s job approval rating is roughly 10 percentage points lower than two years ago before Democrats won the mid term elections.

Strong Democratic fund-raising reflects those advantages. The result: political handicapper Charlie Cook envisions Democratic gains of up to 20 House seats and seven Senate seats, close to the 60 vote threshold needed to break filibusters by the minority.

Republican sense the onset of Democratic overconfidence. Privately, some leading Democrats worry about the same thing.

If McCain remains within striking distance--Obama’s lead remains in single digits in the polls--the expanded battlefield will likely shrink to more conventional dimensions. But those are the hard calculations of the fall homestretch, not the dreams of summer.