WASHINGTON -- One of the Democrats' biggest boasts in this election year is that they are going to sweep a number of Republican red states in their campaign to win back the White House.
Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean has installed squads of fulltime, paid campaign workers in all 50 states in pursuit of this goal. Sen. Barack Obama, whose lead in the delegate count is based in large part on his strong crossover primary victories in the deepest red states, asserts that he is the only candidate who can break the GOP's electoral lock in the West and South.
Hillary Clinton's strategists make similar claims, saying that her support among Latinos will tip Democratic-leaning Western states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada into the Democrat column in November. Indeed, President Bush struggled in these and some Midwestern states in his 2004 victory over John Kerry. He carried New Mexico and Iowa by less than 1 percent, narrowly won Ohio by 2.1 percent, Nevada by 2.6 percent, and Colorado by 4.7 percent -- five states that could have denied Bush a second term.
"Democrats have been having hopeful feelings for some years now about their prospects in some of these red states and I think they will make a big play for them this time," said Rhodes Cook, a veteran election analyst who tracks electoral trends.
But Sen. John McCain's advisers say the Democrats' claims of strength in these and other red states are exaggerated. He is not only a man of the West but runs strongly among Hispanics, and is popular in the South.
"McCain is a westerner, who won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last reelection, and he'll run strongly in the Hispanic community in states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico," said Charlie Black, McCain's senior campaign strategist.
"So this Western strategy Democrats have been touting will not come to pass. They will look at states in the South with large African-American populations and that makes sense, but at the outset I don't see Obama carrying any Southern states," Black told me.
Bush carried all of the Western mountain and plains states in 2004 from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande, winning most by double digits. He swept the entire South with similarly large margins, drawing 70 percent of the white vote to Kerry's 29 percent.
"So if Obama is the nominee, he would have to run quite a bit better among white voters," said Merle Black, the respected political scholar who has written widely on the South.