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Published: Wednesday, 8/13/2008

Obama plans blitz of Buckeye State targeting solid Republican rural areas


CLEVELAND - Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama plans to organize extensively in Ohio's rural areas and small towns that have been strongholds for Republican candidates in the key battleground state.

While Mr. Obama also will concentrate on the state's heavily Democratic urban areas as he looks to win the state's 20 electoral votes in November, his campaign released a document yesterday outlining the strategy.

President Bush won Ohio over Democrat John Kerry four years ago.

Gov. Ted Strickland, who represented rural southeast Ohio in Congress for 12 years, said Mr. Obama's strategy at least could cut into any edge his Republican rival, John McCain, would have.

Mr. Strickland said during a conference call he has advised Obama campaign officials to look at his own and Sen. Sherrod Brown's recent victories as models. He said both had tactics to win votes all across Ohio.

"John Kerry won the major cities and metropolitan areas in our state more than he had hoped to win by. I mean, he did exceedingly well, and he lost the election because of his lack of support in small town and rural Ohio," Mr. Strickland said.

"That every part of this state is being targeted means that Senator Obama will not repeat the Kerry mistake," he said.

The Obama campaign's Ohio strategy document titled "Change Begins in Ohio" includes formation of more than 1,200 neighborhood teams of volunteers, who will focus on a door-to-door conversational approach, said Aaron Pickrell, Obama campaign Ohio director.

Small cities such as Middletown and Troy and rural areas such as Perry County will have Obama campaign offices to help the neighborhood teams, Mr. Pickrell said.

In all, 43 campaign offices statewide are either opened or planned.

McCain campaign spokesman Paul Lindsay said Mr. McCain expects to do well in parts of Ohio which have traditionally favored Republicans.

"John McCain knows how important Ohio is in this election, which is why he will continue traveling throughout the state to discuss his plans to create jobs and provide relief at the pump," Mr. Lindsay said.

The Obama strategy makes sense because a candidate should maximize votes where an opponent is strongest, said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

"Likewise, the McCain campaign will do what it can in the big cities," he said.

But he pointed out the challenges Mr. Obama will face to win rural and small town votes as Mr. Strickland did in Ohio's last governor election.

"Those are areas where Democrats have not done very well. Ted Strickland is an exception. Whether Senator Obama can do that in a presidential election remains to be seen. Rural and small town areas tend to be more conservative, and Senator Obama is seen as very liberal," Mr. Green said.

During the recent primary season, Mr. Strickland worked Ohio for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Sometimes he campaigned for her with President Bill Clinton. Now he vows to bring the same effort to the Obama campaign.Mr. Strickland also said yesterday that he's been asked to speak about the economy at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

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