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FixCam Week in Preview: General Election Geography

Now that Hillary Rodham Clinton has formally suspended her campaign for president, the general election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain can begin in earnest.

With just 148 days between now and Election Day (Nov. 4), every single day is precious for the candidates, so where they -- and their campaigns -- choose to spend their time is an important window into their overall electoral strategy.

Take this week, for example.

Obama spends today in North Carolina, a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat in any of the last four presidential elections and -- even with homestate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) on the ticket in 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry lost the Tar Heel State by double digits.

Why waste a day there given North Carolina's recent history? Because Obama's campaign believes their candidate has a legitimate chance to win the state, which has a considerable black population (nearly one in five residents) and a large population of affluent, highly educated voters in the Research Triangle area.

Obama then heads to Missouri on Tuesday, another state won by George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In the latter election, Kerry pulled out of the state several weeks before Election Day -- a recognition that he did not believe he could win. Obama won the state (narrowly) over Clinton in the primary, and his campaign believes a massive turnout in St. Louis is uniquely possible and could put him in contention if he can perform moderately well in Kansas City and outstate.

McCain, too, is treading on his opponent's turf. The Arizonan will hold a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Thursday --the state that launched his presidential ambitions in 2000 and resurrected them eight years later. Republicans believe McCain's popularity in the Granite State will transcend the anti-GOP mood pervasive in the Northeast.

The following day McCain will be in New Jersey for a campaign stop. It seems like every two years Republicans insist that they can steal a statewide win here, whether it's at the presidential, senatorial or gubernatorial level. Lately, they haven't been able to do it. Voters in New Jersey stay on the fence for a long time -- maybe it's that they don't have a media market of their own, sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia -- but when the jump off its overwhelmingly on the Democratic side. McCain hopes to change that and his visit Friday is a first step.

Remember that where a candidate goes on a daily basis tells you more about how his campaign sees the state-by-state playing field than any other single factor in the campaign, with the possible exception of where the most money is being spent on television.

Want more general election geography? Make sure to check out Post senior political reporter Dan Balz's terrific story laying out attempts by both campaigns to stretch the playing field in unorthodox places.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 9, 2008; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  FixCam  
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