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Top Obama aides counting on new voters to win in November

Newly registered Democrats will offset any lag for Obama among traditional party voters, Plouffe and Axelrod said Thursday at a Monitor breakfast.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer / August 28, 2008

Obama strategist David Axelrod (right) and campaign manager David Plouffe say the Democratic National Convention has given Americans a better sense of Barack Obama and his values. They spoke Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast in Denver.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Denver – Barack Obama’s campaign Thursday brushed aside questions about its standing among traditional Democrats, saying it would win the presidential election by bringing new voters – particularly young people, blacks, Hispanics, and independents – to the polls this fall.

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“There are millions more Democrats today than when this process started and that’s going to be beneficial to us in November,” David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist, said at a breakfast for Senator Obama’s top aides and the media sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Obama is banking on what his campaign manager David Plouffe called a “pretty significant and meaningful gap in intensity” over Sen. John McCain, a claim buttressed by polls showing higher levels of enthusiasm among Democrats than among Republicans this year.

The aides acknowledged the strength of President Bush’s storied campaign organization in 2004, but asserted that Senator McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, would have a hard time replicating it at a time of conservative disenchantment.

“I’m sure McCain has a list of all the Bush volunteers, but these things are not transferable,” Mr. Plouffe said. He said that unlike the Republican Party, which had all but reached its voter turnout limit in the past two presidential elections, “we think we’ve got a lot more room to grow.”

Mr. Axelrod dismissed the notion that the GOP’s track record of disciplined get-out-the-vote efforts would save McCain’s candidacy. “You can’t reverse eight years of failed policies with 72 hours of field work. It’s just not going to happen.”

When pressed to explain polls showing a tight race against McCain, the Obama aides said the nationwide figures masked the Democratic nominee's strength in swing states needed to pile up a majority of electoral votes.

“One of our strategic goals here is to wake up on the morning of Nov. 4 with as many pathways to 270 electoral votes as possible,” Plouffe said, noting that the campaign had “aggressive field programs” and advertising in 18 states.

All the same, the campaign – perhaps seeking to manage expectations – acknowledged that McCain’s popularity exceeds his party’s and predicted a fierce race to the finish.

“Senator McCain in many ways is living off the fumes of his last campaign and has some appeal to independent voters, and that has benefited him,” Axelrod said. “We came through a hotly contested primary that lasted a long time and that has had some impact on us.… We had no illusions that this would be anything but close.”

“The thing that makes this election different is that the battlefield is different,” he added. “There are many more states in play than there have been in the past.”

Obama, who officially won the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday night, struggled in the primaries with working-class whites, who make up a large share of the electorate in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Asked how he would court those voters in the general election, his aides said they would appeal to people's unease over the economy.

“It’s really very simple,” Axelrod said. “It’s not going well for white working-class or any working-class people in this country, [or] for middle-class people. … People have actually lost ground during the last eight years, years that McCain suggests were years of great economic progress.”

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