As the first votes are cast at the polls in the ’08 race for President, one thing is clear: if John McCain has a scintilla of hope left, he must carry both Ohio (20 electoral votes) and Virginia (13 electoral votes). Not since John Kennedy in 1960 has someone been elected President without the Buckeye State’s 20 electoral votes. And should Virginia go Democratic for the first time since 1964, it will be a sure sign that the modern (and until now reliable) Republican “lock” in the South has been broken.
Put another way, if Barack Obama can carry Virginia, he can carry a lot of other states in which a Democrat would not usually be expected to win.
So what do the Republicans most involved in keeping Ohio and Virginia in the GOP column have to say? Between stops of revving up their grass-roots troops, the Republican leaders in both places spoke to me and expressed — albeit in varying degrees — optimism that the McCain-Palin ticket would emerge triumphant with their states’ electoral votes.
“It’ll be very close, but John McCain will win this thing,” Ohio’s Republican Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine told me without hesitation on Monday afternoon, “Put that down. He carries Ohio in a close race, probably by less than 100,000 votes [George W. Bush went over the top and was re-elected after he won Ohio over John Kerry by about 118,000 votes in ‘04].”
For all the talk of McCain having no “ground game” or an “infantry” that was disorganized, DeWine flatly says that’s not the case in his state. In his word, “the get out the vote operation here is nothing short of amazing. We’re blowing the doors off the other side and the we probably have 50 percent to 70 percent more volunteers here and better technology than we did for Bush-Cheney in ’04. We’ve far exceeded our expectations and, I’m not ashamed to say, we’ve outperformed Florida.”
A former speaker pro tem of the state House of Representatives who will succeed twenty-year State Chairman Bob Bennett early next year, DeWine noted that four rallies with Sarah Palin Sunday (Canton, Marietta, Columbus, Owensville), “were nothing short of amazing — filled up with no problem.”
If there is anything that “keeps me up nights worrying,” DeWine said, it is Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner. According to the deputy chairman, “she is doing everything she can to disenfranchise tens of thousands of Republican voters.”
Virginia’s Chairman Jeff Frederick told me “[McCain-Palin] will carry Virginia . I can’t say by much because I’m not in the business of predicting. But we’ll win.”
For all the reports of massive turnouts at recent Obama rallies and some polls giving the Democrats a slight lead in the Old Dominion, Frederick said that “we’re busy, we have a professional operation between the Republican Party in Virginia, the ‘Victory’ operation, and the McCain campaign, we’ve got a good campaign here.”
Earlier in the year, there had been reports of problems between the McCain campaign and the state party headed by stalwart conservative and state legislator Frederick. Chris Saxman, who is considered more moderate than most party leaders and is a fellow state legislator of Frederick, is heading up the state McCain campaign. There have been reports of distance between Saxman and more conservative party leaders such as Frederick and Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell. In addition, Frederick himself came under much-publicized criticism from the McCain campaign for some strong public criticism of Obama.
All of that means nothing at this time, insisted Frederick. As he put it, “What’s important is winning and we have the operation to do it.”