Candidates Face Sprawling Electoral Map

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Published: May 12, 2004

Article originally published at

PHOENIX, May 11 - President Bush and Senator John Kerry are pouring resources into more than 20 states in a struggle to master what both sides describe as one of the largest and most complex electoral playing fields in nearly 20 years.

The broad map, including such unusual additions as Arizona, Colorado and Louisiana as well as the traditionally contested states like Ohio, is partly the result of the vast amount of money each candidate has raised and their decision to quit a campaign finance system that would put a ceiling on their spending. That has allowed Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry to spend - and experiment - in states they might otherwise have been forced to ignore, campaign aides said.

The new map also reflects demographic shifts that have put places like Arizona, a nominally Republican state, in play because of its growing Hispanic population, as well as polling that has found an increasing number of states that are nearly evenly divided. Campaign aides also say they feel pressure not to repeat what they view as Al Gore's mistake of abandoning states that ended up being decided by a few thousand votes.

The two campaigns are, as of now, looking at 22 states between them, a playing field that is about one-third larger than it was at this point in 2000. Analysts say it could expand even more in the months ahead, before undergoing the contraction that inevitably takes place after Labor Day, as the campaigns take stock of where they stand for the remaining 60 days of the contest.

"This group of battleground states that we have now is a starting point," said Rhodes Cook, a political analyst who is an expert on the nominating process. "We're starting where we left off in 2000. There might be another half-dozen states that look promising as we move around."

The expanding map has created complications for the campaigns as they seek to allocate resources and candidates' time while devising appeals that work in different regions of the country. "There are just a lot of states in play," Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a Democrat, said in an interview. "You've got to make more decisions on where your candidate is going to go and spend money, and where you are going to do a media buy, and how many states you are going to have a huge field operation in."

Ms. Napolitano said that when she accompanied Mr. Kerry here on Friday at the annual meeting of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, "Everybody who saw him told him the same thing: He needed to get to their state as soon he could."

Arizona is one of the states that has caught the early attention of the candidates as they adjust to this new terrain. The changing demographics here - in particular, the increasing number of Hispanic voters - has made it more Democratic since 2000, when Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Gore by six percentage points, campaign aides said. A poll of Arizona voters conducted by KAET-TV and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in late April found that Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry were effectively tied.

Ms. Napolitano said that in 2000, Mr. Gore virtually ignored Arizona, which for a generation was identified with the conservative icon Barry Goldwater. She said the only nod to Arizona she could recall from the Gore campaign was a visit by Hadassah Lieberman, the wife of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who was Mr. Gore's running mate.

By contrast, Mr. Kerry was here for two days last week, and he and Mr. Bush are running television advertisements. "Bush has been here twice since the primary," said Ms. Napolitano, who has tracked the moves by the Republican opposition since the state's Democratic primary in February.

In these early days of a presidential contest, there is often a bit of bluster on both sides, as they seek to bluff the opposition to squander resources on what should be safe territory. Still, officials for each candidate noted the recriminations that Mr. Gore's campaign suffered after pulling out of states like Ohio and West Virginia, which he narrowly lost, and say they are determined to avoid decisions that could subject them to second-guessing in November.

Analysts outside the campaigns said there appeared to be less feinting than in any recent election. Mr. Kerry, for example, spent nearly $2 million last week on advertising in Colorado and Louisiana. Those are two states that had not been considered particularly competitive because Mr. Bush won them by more than seven percentage points in 2000. And Mr. Kerry campaigned in Louisiana on Friday and Saturday.

"It's an objective fact we have expanded the battleground," said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Kerry. "And we intend to further expand it."

Mr. Bush quickly responded to Mr. Kerry's advertisements by putting his own advertisements up on the air in Louisiana and Colorado.

The Bush campaign has been advertising in Delaware, a move that has made Democrats nervous, even though Mr. Gore defeated Mr. Bush there by 13 percentage points in 2000. Aides to Mr. Bush said they were also likely to turn their attention to a second state that has been considered a lock for Democrats in presidential elections, New Jersey.

"You want to start out with a broader field and pare it down," said Matthew Dowd, one of Mr. Bush's chief strategists. "And we obviously have the resources to start broader."

A state is generally considered on the playing field if it was won by either Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush by six percentage points or less in 2000. There are 16 states that fall into that category: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

Five of those states are considered the most competitive and most likely to consume a preponderance of the candidate's resources by October: Florida, Ohio and Missouri, where Mr. Bush won, and Pennsylvania and Iowa, where Mr. Gore won.

Beyond that, there are six states that while decided by a larger margin in 2000, were described by analysts and aides to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry as potentially in play this year: Arizona and West Virginia, followed by Delaware, Colorado, Louisiana and New Jersey.

Both sides are looking to pick off states that they lost last time and, notably, there is little disagreement about which states those are.

For Republicans, those are Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Maine, Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, Delaware and, possibly, Michigan. For Democrats, the states are Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Arizona, Missouri, Nevada, Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Louisiana.

Some Democrats also include Tennessee, even though Mr. Gore, a native of that state, lost there to Mr. Bush by four points. That Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are roaming so broadly reflects the changing and more complex geography of presidential politics. An era when presidential competitions were dominated by a few large states like California, New York, New Jersey and Ohio has given way to a more intricate political canvas, with candidates spending money and time in states that a generation ago might have drawn barely a glance.

"It is amazing to me that they would be spending huge amounts of time and even money in states with relatively small numbers of electoral votes, in particular, Delaware and New Hampshire," said Alan I. Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. New Hampshire, which voted for Mr. Bush in 2000, has four electoral votes, while Delaware, which voted for Mr. Gore, has three.

This is arguably as much of an opportunity as it is a headache. Mr. Kerry was under pressure from Democrats here and in New Mexico, for example, to pay more visits to the West, and his aides said he has been under similar pressure from Democrats in other contested states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, where Mr. Bush campaigned Friday.

"There's only one of him to go around," said John Norris, Mr. Kerry's national field director. "All these states have an interest in having him there. It makes scheduling difficult."

If history is a guide, this period will last through the conventions, after which candidates will make hard judgments on where they stand.

"It will pare down after the conventions," Mr. Dowd said. "We will ask ourselves, is Delaware really a swing state? Is Arizona really a swing state, or is it O.K. for us?"

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