A home field advantage is one of the few certainties in politics, and nothing comforts a presidential hopeful quite as much as the knowledge that voters at home have their back.
That is why Sen. Barack Obama's decision to launch television ads in New York – home to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton – caused some pique among her supporters there this week. And why Obama backers winced last year when Senator Clinton landed a Chicago billionaire as a fundraiser and national campaign chairman.
The hunt for votes, money, and news coverage on rival turf is partly practical. New York and Illinois, two of the more than 20 states with primaries Tuesday, are a jackpot of delegates and deep-pocketed donors. Even if Senator Obama loses New York and Clinton loses Illinois – near guarantees, polls suggest – they are likely to score enough votes for a share of the delegates.
But other motives are more, well, tactical. Making a stand in a foe's backyard can force opponents to divert resources from other states, analysts say. It also offers a chance to embarrass a native son or daughter among the voters who presumably know them best.
"It rattles the other side," says Jeff Bell, a GOP strategist who advised Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential race, when President Gerald Ford sowed some panic by nabbing endorsements in Reagan's home state of California. "You don't want to take the chance, because if you lose your own state, it can be humiliating."
Obama and Clinton have made relatively few visits to the other's home base but have raised millions of dollars there. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made only cameo appearances in Arizona, Sen. John McCain's home state. And aside from a few fundraisers in Boston, Senator McCain has saved his time for politically greener pastures.
But none of the front-runners in either party say they are ceding their opponents' home states, all of which vote Tuesday.
McCain's support in the Bay State
McCain's most prominent supporter in Massachusetts is former acting Gov. Jane Swift, whose 2002 campaign was knocked aside when Romney announced his run for governor. Among his other endorsers are a few leaders of the state's struggling GOP, who accuse Romney of being so preoccupied with his presidential bid in his final years as governor that he neglected to nurture the local party.
But with Romney far ahead in the polls, McCain isn't spending lavishly in Massachusetts. Supporters who wanted signs and stickers were reduced to scavenging in neighboring New Hampshire.
"Some volunteers from Massachusetts took a ride up and collected signs from polling places" after the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8, says Brent Andersen, treasurer of the Massachusetts Republican Party and a vice chairman of McCain's campaign there. "This being Massachusetts, where Romney is from, the McCain campaign is not going crazy on resources here."
Still, Massachusetts is one of the few states without a winner-takes-all Republican primary, and McCain supporters are gunning for delegates.
Arizona, by contrast, gives all its GOP delegates to the victor. Opinion polls leave little doubt that McCain, a senator there for more than two decades and now the GOP front-runner for president, is sitting pretty.
Still, some 6 percent of Arizonans share Romney's Mormon faith, and conservatives there have groused about McCain's immigration positions and votes against Bush tax cuts. As of Sept. 30, Romney had raised $1.1 million in Arizona, about half McCain's haul there, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
"Huckabee's got Chuck Norris out there, and McCain's bragging about Rambo's endorsement," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has feuded with McCain for years, partly over immigration policy, told donors Saturday at a fundraiser in Mesa, Ariz. "Well, Mitt Romney has the real crime fighter on his team."
Arpaio, an honorary co-chair of Romney's Arizona campaign, is a tough-talking lawman famous for making his inmates wear pink underwear. He also happens to be a Massachusetts native.
Even if victory is out of reach, "we want to give John McCain a run for his money," says Ryan Anderson, deputy political director for Romney in Arizona. "A strong showing in Arizona sends a strong message nationally."
Clinton and Obama in New York
New York was once seen as impenetrable. Clinton was reelected in 2006 with more than two-thirds of the vote. Her campaign boasts at least 20,000 volunteers and 35 offices statewide and is backed by much of the political establishment, including Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
But Obama has made splashy visits to Manhattan and Brooklyn and has built an energetic grass-roots network in New York City, home to many young voters, blacks, and progressives – as well as half the state's Democratic primary votes. Obama raised nearly $8 million in the state as of Sept. 30, far less than Clinton's $18 million, but almost as much as former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
"If we can get 40% of the vote that would be huge considering this is Clinton Back yard," a supporter blogged last week on a "Brooklyn for Barack" website.
Clinton aides say they are taking nothing for granted, but mentions of Obama's push inspire protective instincts. "She's been an extraordinary senator and she's one of our own," Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Clinton supporter who represents Brooklyn and Queens, says in a phone interview. As for Obama's efforts in New York, he says, "they don't have a lot of money and they'd be wasting it."
Illinois is Obama country, and he is leading by nearly 30 percentage points in the polls. But Clinton also has roots there; she was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. Illinois awards delegates proportionally, and her campaign says it is mining every district.
The Clinton campaign claims a database of more than 5,000 Illinois volunteers and is focusing particular attention on voters downstate, where Obama didn't perform as well in his 2004 election. Campaign ads in St. Louis reach many Illinois voters, and on Wednesday the campaign dispatched Bill Clinton to an event in downstate Edwardsville, Ill.
"It's going to be a tough fight," says Emilia DiMenco, an executive at Harris Bank who serves on an Illinois steering committee for Clinton. "She's a native daughter and he's an adopted son, but he's our senator. Many political figures cannot show their support for Senator Clinton until Feb. 6."
Obama is leaving nothing to chance. Some 25,000 volunteers are helping get people to the polls, and a phalanx of supporters are staging press conferences and rallies this week in every media market in the state, says Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman.
"Senator Clinton is also from Illinois and maintains a base of support here," he says. "We're not taking anything for granted."