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Seeing Red: Obama’s 50-State Strategy

Two USC experts discuss whether Obama can carry traditionally Republican states in areas like the South.

USC College professors Janelle Staci Wong and Michael B. Preston evaluate Barack Obama’s plan of going after all 50 states, including traditionally red states in areas like the South.

“I am not sure Obama will stick with the 50-state strategy — it seems more of a way to make the McCain campaign use resources to defend these states,” says Preston, an expert in African American politics. “However, I do think he has a decent shot at North Carolina, if he gets help from John Edwards and the other Democratic politicians in the state. The key will be a high black turnout, coupled with a large turnout in the university triangle of college students and upper-income whites. Given these conditions, Obama has a very good chance to carry the state.

“His better option seems to be in Virginia,” Preston adds. “The demographics of the state have changed, and it now has many more young people, and college-educated people from other states, who tend to be more Democratic and to some degree liberal — this is especially true in the northern part of the state. Clearly, Obama hasn’t been spending time there for nothing; he thinks he has a good chance of carrying the state,” Preston says.

“Obama will certainly face challenges in the most Republican states,” adds Wong, an expert on ethnicity and politics. “Recent polling and past election results suggest that there continues to be a racial divide in the American electorate. A majority of whites haven’t supported the Democratic candidate for president for many decades.”

“In surveys in states like Virginia and North Carolina, a surprisingly high number of people admit that they are reluctant to support a black candidate because of their anxieties over race,” Wong points out.

“At the same time, the Obama campaign is making a concerted effort to reach across ideological lines,” Wong says. “For example, they have reached out to conservative evangelical voters more than any other Democratic campaign of the recent past. And we do see evidence that some of these outreach efforts are working, but it’s still an open question whether they will change the partisan contours of the electorate to assure victory in historical Republican strongholds.”

Michael B. Preston, professor of political science in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is an expert on racial, ethnic and urban politics.
Contact him at (213) 740-8501 or

Janelle Staci Wong, assistant professor of political science and American studies and ethnicity in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is an expert on ethnic politics and public opinion research.
Contact her at (213) 740-1696 or

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Seeing Red: Obama’s 50-State Strategy

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