Obama to set up shop in Juneau

Campaign considers state a battleground that's up for grabs

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign is opening an office in Juneau.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

At a campaign meeting Tuesday night at the Silverbow Café, about three dozen people turned out to hear the Obama campaign's three paid Juneau staffers outline their strategies to turn out the city's voters for their candidate this November.

Southeast Alaska Regional Field Director Blake Narendra said the campaign hopes to find office space to rent in the coming week. At Tuesday's meeting, he asked those in attendance if anyone had a car the campaign could use for the next four months.

In addition to the office in Juneau, state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown said the Obama campaign is opening offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks and in the Matanuska Valley. Narendra said the campaign has 40 paid staff members in Alaska.

Alaska hasn't voted for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson won the state in 1964. Republican President George Bush won the state by large margins in the last two presidential elections.

Juneau's voters picked Bush in 2000, but voted for his Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004.

Juneau's Democratic state Senator Kim Elton said the Obama campaign's decision to put an office in Juneau and other parts of the state is a bold move that shows the candidate's willingness to buck conventional thinking.

"It's pretty scrappy," Elton said, who added that he can't remember any past presidential campaigns, of either party, that opened offices in Juneau.

Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters last month that he considers Alaska, along with other states that have traditionally been considered strongly Republican, a battleground that's up for grabs this fall. The Obama campaign will have organizations in all 50 states, Plouffe said.

Brown said the Obama campaign's decision to put resources into every state reflects the Democratic party's efforts over the last few years to be more competitive around the country.

"If you don't show up, you won't be successful," Brown said.

Obama is set to become the official Democratic candidate this August at his party's convention in Denver. Obama beat Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, in a bruising primary contest that saw him score a major victory over her in Alaska.

Two calls to the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona were not returned. But a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign told the Anchorage Daily News last month that she doesn't expect the campaign to open an office in Alaska.

McCain did poorly in the Alaska Republican caucuses, coming in fourth in a four-way race prior to becoming the party's presumptive nominee.

Obama's staffers said the Illinois senator may visit Alaska before the election.

If he does, it's thought it would be the first visit to the state by a major presidential candidate since 1960.

That year, Democrat John F. Kennedy began his official campaign in Alaska in September. His rival, Republican Richard Nixon, came to Alaska as the contest drew to a close in November.

In a wire story printed in the Oct. 31, 1960, edition of the Daily Alaska Empire, Nixon said his friends told him not to visit Alaska, where Kennedy was favored, and instead focus on other parts of the country in the last week of the election.

His reply: "I believe that historians will look at this campaign as one which helped restore the two party-system to many states where presidential candidates in the past have seldom if ever appeared."

Nixon squeaked out a victory in Alaska, but lost the general election to Kennedy.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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