Sen. Barack Obama is off the campaign trail, but his top aides are running hard today.
Obama's senior strategists held a national news conference by telephone today, bullishly arguing that the campaign is on offense and surging in red states, while Sen. John McCain is scampering to Pennsylvania for an unlikely "pathway to victory," as campaign manager David Plouffe put it.
Field guru Jon Carson, ticking through numbers on early voting, contended that Obama is building an early lead with new, first-time voters. In Colorado, he said one of five Democrats voting by mail have never previously voted in a general election, auguring a surge of new support. In Nevada, early-voting data suggest an edge for Democrats, he added, where 40% of Obama's early-vote support is from new or sporadic voters (who only vote in presidential years), while 30% of the GOP's early-voting bloc are from new or sporadic voters.
Obama's edge among new voters is based not only on his appeal, the aides noted, but also his persistent outreach. Counting only live conversations as voter contacts -- not voicemails or robocalls -- the campaign touted its large footprint in the field:
1.3 million contacts with Florida voters since Labor Day
1.5 million contacts in Ohio since Labor Day
Currently averaging 400,000 contacts a day across the country
On pace to make 1.2 million contacts this weekend in battleground states alone
Finally, the strategists emphasized that Obama's large rallies are the ultimate organizing tool. Citing the two events that drew 175,000 people in Missouri last week, the campaign noted that within one day of those events, the state's field operation swiftly filled 35% of its volunteer shifts.
During Q&A, Plouffe largely demurred on strategic questions from reporters -- including an inquiry about Obama's "closing argument" from NBC's Andrea Mitchell -- while stressing his operation's field prowess. (Another reporter asked, seriously, whether the campaign would win Florida.)
Plouffe did pivot from a strategic question to argue that at this juncture, newly converted Obama supporters may be more pivotal than undecideds because new Obama supporters seem "sticky" and look solid for mobilization. If newly identified supporters are soft, by contrast, field operatives worry that they will end up mobilizing people who ultimately back the opponent. (That was part of Howard Dean's Iowa collapse in 2004.)
"If anything, enthusiasm for Obama is increasing as the election draws near," he added, because late-breaking voters are embracing the Democratic nominee.