Aide calls Alaska battleground state

Obama manager says the candidate can win the state's support

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2008

JUNEAU - Barack Obama's campaign believes Alaska is a battleground state - even with just three electoral votes - and it can make a difference in Illinois senator's effort to become the next president.

Deputy Campaign Manager Pete Rouse on Thursday said he believes Obama can become the first Democrat in 44 years to win Alaska's support in the general election.

But even when touting the state as crucial, Rouse could not commit to a date when Obama would campaign in Alaska.

"That is in our planning; we hope he will," Rouse said. "The question is timing, how much time do we really have? It's actively discussed. We hope it will happen."

During a teleconference with reporters stateside, Rouse fielded reporters' questions, including one discussing Obama's reluctance to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Rouse said Obama is not anti-resource development and believes the state is on the right track with a natural gas pipeline project.

"He's opposed to drilling ANWR and always has been on the basis that we have to get off our addiction to oil and move (to) alternative sources," Rouse said. "The project he supports is the gas line, which he thinks is better for our long-term energy picture."

Rouse said a strong showing in the Alaska's Super Tuesday Democratic caucus helped the party decide to set up shop in Alaska with staffed offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer and Juneau.

Nearly 9,000 people participated in the caucuses compared to 700 four years earlier, and they overwhelmingly backed Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Another factor in Obama's favor, Rouse said, is that presumed Republican candidate John McCain finished fourth in the Republican voting behind Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul.

This generated momentum for the campaign in Alaska, he said, leading the campaign to re-establish offices statewide. The campaign also hired state director Kat Pustay, a former aide to state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

"The February caucuses in Alaska suggests that the Alaskan mindset is receptive to Barack's belief that by working together we can get past political divisions and change politics as usual and solve big problems," Rouse said.

Calls to two McCain campaign offices were not immediately returned.

Rouse said the Obama campaign has identified 200 electoral votes that are either "strong Obama or leaning Obama," and 137 for McCain.

Rouse said that's where 18 other battle ground states, including that states like Alaska and Texas have historically backed Republican candidates, enter the picture.

Alaskans last chose a Democrat for the presidency in 1964 when they backed Lyndon Johnson at a 2-to-1 margin over Barry Goldwater. Since 1980, the state has sent an all-Republican congressional delegation to Washington, D.C.

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