Obama pushes deep into Republican turf

FARGO, North Dakota Thu Jul 3, 2008 4:15pm EDT

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama speaks to the media at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, July 1, 2008. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama speaks to the media at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, July 1, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan

FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pushed deep into Republican territory in North Dakota on Thursday, saying he saw the potential for a significant political realignment in November's election.

Staking another claim to a state usually ignored by Democratic contenders for the White House, Obama said Americans of all political leanings were hungry for something different after eight years of President George W. Bush.

"I'm a firm believer that 90 percent of success is showing up and Democrats haven't been showing up in these places," he said in Fargo, North Dakota, a state that has not backed a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

The visit to North Dakota, where Obama pushed his plans to help military veterans, followed stops in conservative sections of Ohio and Colorado this week. On Friday's July 4th holiday, he will visit Montana, another state that traditionally votes Republican.

"If you look at the trends in many of these states, there are more and more independents who aren't tied to a political party and I want to make sure that we are reaching out to them," Obama said.

"I think there is a possibility of a significant realignment politically in this election," he said. "Now is the time for us to have a conversation with all Americans, not just some Americans, about how we can pull together."

Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, will face Republican John McCain in the November 4 election.

Immediately after clinching the Democratic nomination early last month Obama signaled his intention to expand the political battleground in the hunt for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

He launched his first general election trip in Virginia, another longtime Republican stronghold that has shifted toward Democrats in recent years, and has traveled to North Carolina and Nevada.

He has promised to open offices in all 50 states and aired advertising in 21 states, including several traditional Republican strongholds including North Dakota, Montana and even Alaska.

Obama hopes dissatisfaction with Bush and Republicans will help swing independents and some Republicans his way. Democratic voter registration and turnout has been higher than Republicans nationally and the Obama campaign has organized a national voter registration drive.

'WRONG DIRECTION'

"Look at today's news -- 62,000 jobs lost, over 80 percent of American people think we are moving in the wrong direction, there is unease all over the country," Obama said.

"I believe the American people across the political spectrum are hungry for something different, something new," he told reporters in a brief tarmac news conference after touching down at the Fargo airport.

Obama also has taken aim at Mountain West states like Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Arizona, where Hispanic growth and a changing political culture have fueled recent Democratic growth.

He told supporters at a Colorado Springs fund-raiser on Wednesday night that some Western states were up for grabs in November. He said he discussed the issue with former President Bill Clinton in a telephone conversation earlier this week.

"We were talking about Colorado," Obama said, adding Clinton said there had been a "seismic shift" in the state's politics.

Obama can afford to experiment in some non-traditional states. He opted out of public financing and its accompanying spending limits in the general election, while McCain will be limited to spending the $85 million in taxpayer funds.

Obama, who already has raised more than $265 million in the primary race, could raise more than $200 million for the general election.

Republican critics have said Obama's early moves were feints designed to keep McCain on the defensive in states where he normally could cruise to victory. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected that argument.

"That is something you do in small markets in the spring," he said. "We don't have enough time for head fakes."

(Editing by Bill Trott)

(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

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