Politics & Government

Obama sees W.Va. opening; could Ky. be next?

Riding a surge in polls, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is suddenly deploying resources and ads into states once thought to be reliable GOP wins, including neighboring West Virginia.

Although some prominent Democrats mentioned that Kentucky, too, could be among them, there is no evidence yet that Obama's campaign is edging into the Bluegrass State, where Republican Sen. John McCain enjoyed double-digit leads in polls throughout the summer.

Obama hasn't purchased local air time on television stations, although Kentuckians, like other Americans, have seen his campaign commercials during national news and prime time programming.

Obama campaign spokesman Dan Leistikow declined to discuss strategy.

"Senator Obama has growing support in Kentucky and around the country because families just can't (take) another four years of the failed Bush-McCain policies," Leistikow said in a brief statement.

On Thursday, Politico.com reported that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is advising Obama, said the campaign is considering expanding to Kentucky, in addition to West Virginia, North Dakota and Georgia.

The Associated Press also reported that Obama's campaign would launch TV ads in West Virginia, which President Bush won four years ago and hadn't been on the list of target states until recently.

Obama lost West Virginia's Democratic primary to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by 41 percent last May as he struggled to win over working-class whites. But Democrats say the economic turmoil in the state as well as TV ads Obama has been running in neighboring Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia have made West Virginia competitive.

Both Kentucky and Georgia also feature U.S. Senate races that were once considered safe bets for the Republicans but have become competitive in recent weeks. That could also factor into the increased buzz over those states.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is the Republican leader in the Senate, has seen his race against Democrat Bruce Lunsford tighten in recent weeks.

McConnell, however, declined to say whether he fears a wave of support for Democrats nationally.

"The surveys are bouncing around all over the place," McConnell said Thursday after speaking in Paintsville. "The election is going to be two weeks from Tuesday. We'll see what the situation is then. We're out making our case to people."

Several Democrats said Lunsford would get a boost in his quest to unseat McConnell if Obama did spend money in Kentucky and, more important, they said, campaigned here.

"The people of Kentucky need to see he is interested in their votes," said Ed Worley, the Democratic leader in the state Senate. "If he personally came to Kentucky it would have a huge impact on voter turnout for him, but it would certainly be a benefit for Bruce Lunsford."

Democratic Rep. Harry Moberly of Richmond said running ads in Central Kentucky would help Obama capitalize on what he described as a recent surge of support in Madison County.

"I can gauge from this community that he is doing better than people thought he was going to do," he said, adding that concern over the national economy is fueling the surge. "I think they see him as a needed change and they do like what he says."

For undecided voter Brandy Auxier of Prestonsburg, either presidential candidate running commercials aimed at Kentuckians would make a big impression "just to let us know that we count."

"Nobody ever cares," said Auxier, 20. "It would show that he would be putting money, thought and time into Kentucky."

Some Kentucky media markets have been inundated with Obama and McCain ads because of their proximity to key swing states. Voters in Northern Kentucky, for instance, can't miss the commercials that dominate Cincinnati TV. And ads have been running in Louisville and Paducah to reach Indiana and southeastern Missouri voters.

But in Lexington, WKYT-Channel 27, whose newscast draws a lot of campaign advertising, reported to the Herald-Leader that no one from the Obama campaign has called to book air time.

Obama sounded increasingly optimistic at a breakfast fund-raiser at the New York City Metropolitan Club on Thursday.

"We now have 19 days," Obama said. "We are now 19 days not from the end but from the beginning."

McCain, for his part, was returning to the argument that Obama's credentials are too thin for the White House, his campaign and the Republican National Committee releasing ads focusing on experience and judgment.