CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Barack Obama's surging presidential campaign announced Monday that he will visit politically neglected Florida and Michigan, as he focuses on a general election strategy with his primary race winding down.
It will be Obama's first time in either state since signing a pledge nine months ago not to campaign in the two states that violated national party rules with early primaries. Obama will have to build relationships in the two critical general election battlegrounds if he wins the Democratic nomination.
The Obama campaign announced a five-state tour over the next two weeks that includes stops in remaining primary states South Dakota and Oregon but is dominated by swing states where he hopes to run strong against Republican John McCain once the marathon Democratic race ends.
Obama leads in delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination, even though he's expected to lose badly on Tuesday to rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in West Virginia. He'll try to move on from the loss by campaigning in Missouri, a state that President Bush won in 2000 and 2004.
On Wednesday, he plans to make two stops in Michigan _ the swing Macomb County and the GOP stronghold of Grand Rapids. He plans to spend three days starting May 21 in Florida, with stops in Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach County and Miami. The area is a popular stop for political fundraising, but the Obama campaign says the candidate will mostly be appealing for votes.
“Our schedule reflects the fact that we are still fighting for votes and delegates in the remaining contests but also that we are going to places that are going to be competitive in the fall,'' said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. “John McCain has gone unchallenged for far too long, and we're going to make sure that voters in competitive states know the choice in this election between changing Washington and the third term of George Bush's failed policies that McCain is offering.''
All the Democratic presidential candidates agreed on boycotting Michigan and Florida. Clinton won both states, but no delegates were awarded. Restoring the delegates is a major part of Clinton's long shot strategy for the nomination.
As she campaigned in West Virginia on Mother's Day, Clinton rejected any suggestion that she's dropping out of the race. She used campaign stops to remind voters of women who didn't give up in difficult situations, who fought for equal rights, broke into male-dominated professions and succeeded when others told them to quit.
She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, telling supporters: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know strong she is until she is in hot water.''
Earlier in the day, she read letters from supporters urging her not to give up, despite campaign math that's nearly impossible to work out in her favor.
Looking only at West Virginia, this should be a confident time for the New York senator. She remains strong among working-class white voters, women and older Americans. Those demographics are expected to carry her to a triumph Tuesday and another in Kentucky next week.
But Obama has a commanding lead in pledged delegates and has erased her lead among superdelegates, the party leaders who can side with any candidate.
Clinton's last best hope is to use strong showings in West Virginia and Kentucky to make the case that Obama is weak among key Democratic constituents.
“Why can't Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton in West Virginia? Voters there have heard that he's the presumptive nominee,'' Clinton campaign strategist Howard Wolfson said on “Fox News Sunday.'' “They've seen the great press he's gotten in the past couple of days. Let's let them decide. They have an opportunity. They want to end this on Tuesday, they're perfectly capable of it.''
David Gergen, former White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, said in an AP Broadcast interview in San Francisco, “She says 'full steam ahead,' (but) her problem is that she's running out of track.''
“She was the inevitable nominee and I think they misjudged what they were up against,'' Gergen added. “Along comes this phenomenon named Barack Obama and upsets everybody's calculations. The real problem in the (Clinton) campaign was that they weren't adaptable, they were not able to change game plan right in the middle once it looked like they had a real fight on their hands.''