McCain Campaign On Easy Street In Arizona

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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PHOENIX - It's possible to argue that Barack Obama's campaign isn't a lost cause in John McCain's home state of Arizona. Convincing anyone is another matter.

Obama can take comfort in these facts:

_Democrats have captured the governor and attorney general seats, and two congressional seats previously held by Republicans.

_McCain fell short of capturing a majority when he won the presidential primary in February.

_Obama has lined up thousands of volunteers in the state.

_And, hey, remember when Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000?

In fact, if McCain didn't hold a home-field advantage, Arizona probably would stand with Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada as toss-up states in the West, where both campaigns are investing heavily.

The reality, however, is that McCain is in no danger of losing Arizona and its 10 electoral votes.

McCain has built a network of supporters during his four Senate campaigns and enjoys crossover appeal with conservative Democrats that would be difficult for an outsider to match.

His only challenge is to put Arizona in the win column while spending as little money here as possible, saving his resources for more competitive states.

"He is not ignoring the state," said Fred Solop, a political science professor and pollster at Northern Arizona University. "He knows he doesn't have to invest in Arizona. He has invested in Arizona over the years."

"It would be a long shot for Obama to win here," agreed Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill, whose surveys have shown McCain leading comfortably in the state. He believes the Republican's numbers are improving with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Daunted or not, the Obama campaign is making a stand, arguing that McCain has vulnerabilities.

Jim Messina, Obama's chief of staff, said Democrats are gaining momentum and the campaign has lined up thousands of Arizona volunteers.

"We think there are a whole bunch of people in Arizona who want change," Messina said.

Jim Pederson, a former state Democratic chairman, five years ago pronounced McCain as popular with Democrats as Republicans in the state. But he says that's changed since McCain adopted a tougher approach on immigration during the primary election season.

"I think the dynamics are such that Obama can make it a race here," Pederson said.

But the state has long voted Republican in presidential elections. Bill Clinton in 1996 became the first Democrat to prevail here since Harry Truman in 1948. George W. Bush carried the state as the Republican nominee in 2000 and 2004.

The most recent public polls, taken before the political conventions, showed McCain ahead by 6 to 10 percentage points.

Obama's supporters say the states' primary results indicate that McCain isn't as strong back home as expected.

McCain won with 47 percent of the vote and came out 13 percentage points ahead of second-place finisher Mitt Romney. Obama, for his part, finished 8 points behind Hillary Rodham Clinton in the state.

McCain doesn't sound worried. He has never lost a statewide election. And he won his last two re-election races with better than two-thirds of the vote.

"John is going to do just fine in Arizona," said Wes Gullett, a top McCain organizer in the state. "Our objective in Arizona is to win, but also to conserve resources for targeted states."

Neither candidate has spent much time campaigning in Arizona. McCain has appeared at a handful of public events. Obama has made three appearances since the fall of 2006.