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McCain hopes to turn the tide in Midwest

 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks during a town hall meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, at the Pan American Center o...
 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,talks about various issues, including immigration and border security, Wednesday, Aug. 20...

McCain 2008

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks during a town hall meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, at the Pan American Center o...

McCain 2008

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,talks about various issues, including immigration and border security, Wednesday, Aug. 20...

Democratic dominance in presidential elections has been the norm for decades throughout much of the country's union-strong industrial Great Lakes region in the Midwest.
Republican John McCain hopes to upset that history.
The presidential candidate is mounting strong challenges to Democratic rival Barack Obama in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and eyeing Minnesota _ four states that have thwarted Republicans in at least four straight elections. The Arizona senator is also fighting to hang on to Ohio, a swing state that Republican President George W. Bush won twice.
"For all the talk about changing the electoral map, the core of it is still the same _ right here," said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor.
This region has been a central part of every White House race for 30-some years in part because of the way the presidential election is decided _ by the electoral college system rather than by nationwide popular vote.
In the electoral college system, each state has a set number of electoral votes, which is tied to the state's population. When a candidate wins in a state, he wins all the state's electoral votes, so winning by even a slight margin in a well-popluated state is a big boost.
The number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency is 270. Together the five Midwestern states where McCain sees opportunity have 78 electoral votes; Illinois' 21 votes are considered safe for Obama, its favorite son U.S. senator.
This year McCain views the region as his best, if not his only, chance to keep a Republican in the White House in an election season that strongly favors Democrats after eight years of Bush. All five states were decided by narrow margins four years ago.
They are home to large numbers of blue-collar whites, whom Obama has struggled to win over; senior citizens, who polls show tilt toward McCain; and Catholics, a swing-voting constituency. These groups comprise the bulk of the right-leaning suburban Democrats who were successfully courted by Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and may be attracted to McCain if he can keep his distance from Bush. In addition, each state has rural conservative voters who could reject Obama's liberal voting record and, perhaps, his race.
"McCain is looking at the nature of the electorate and has a reasonable chance to cherry-pick some voters," said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "These are the kinds of voters who were reluctant to vote for Obama in the primary, and the Republicans think they can make inroads with them."
Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator, is seeking to become the first black U.S. president. Republicans have worked to tag him an inexperienced elitist trading on his celebrity. Race and class are certainly factors in this contest _ and definitely in this region _ but the impact won't be measurable until after the election.
Obama has characterized McCain, who has supported Bush in Senate votes 90 percent of the time, as offering another term of the unpopular president's economic and free trade policies to a region whose economy has tanked and that has seen staggering job losses.
McCain has acknowledged the economy isn't his strongest suit. Some other factors also may work against the 71-year-old from the southwestern state of Arizona.
Obama calls Great Lakes state Illinois home, and he is strongly defending four of these states while aggressively going after Ohio and looking to pick off a Republican-held target in this region, Indiana. At this point, McCain's campaign isn't active in that state, a sign that Republicans aren't yet worried.
Obama should post big numbers in urban cores like Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, given his strong support among minorities and younger voters. Obama will probably benefit from union support here. And enthusiasm for his candidacy and a recruitment effort have sharply increased Democratic voter registration.
In Ohio, McCain may find it difficult to repeat Bush's 2004 victory. The state Republican Party is in shambles after scandals helped Democrats claim the governor's office in 2006.
Michigan, where the auto industry is ailing, is one of McCain's two top targets. Obama didn't compete there during the primary so he needed to build an organization essentially from scratch. Picking Michigan native Mitt Romney as his running mate could help McCain.
Pennsylvania is McCain's other priority. Obama was soundly defeated by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the state's spring primary, though the race boosted Democratic voter registration. McCain could benefit there if he puts former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on the ticket.
Wisconsin has been closely contested in recent years and gave Democrats narrow victories of only 11,000 votes in 2004 and 5,000 votes in 2000. However, it has been trending more Democratic in the last four years.
Minnesota last voted for a Republican for president in 1972. For now at least, it's the only one of the five states where McCain isn't running TV ads, but that may change if the state is within reach as the Nov. 4 election approaches.
McCain will accept the Republican presidential nomination next month at the party's convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his prospects in the state could improve if he picks Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his No. 2. A new MPR/Humphrey Institute poll released Thursday shows Obama leading McCain in Minnesota, 48 percent to 38 percent.
To win all five states, McCain must offset Obama's strong support in metropolitan centers by running well in perpetual swing-voting areas _ places like Minnesota's Anoka County, north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The county is home to working-class voters who love to hunt and fish and don't hesitate to back a candidate who feels right to them, regardless of party label. It was the center of wrestler Jesse Ventura's victorious 1998 independent campaign for governor.
Republican Jim Abeler, who has represented the area in the legislature for a decade, says McCain could do well in counties like Anoka by playing up his maverick image.
"The solid Republicans are going to suck it up and vote for McCain. The solid Democrats are going to suck it up and vote for Obama," he said. "But there are a lot of people in the middle. I think there's hay to be made in my county."
Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Brian Bakst reported from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Updated : 2021-05-07 16:25 GMT+08:00