ANCHORAGE, ALASKA -- Last night, in a conference room in the public library here, Barack Obama State Director Kat Pustay told about 50 Alaskans that Obama would be coming to campaign in Alaska sometime before November, a move that would dramatically underscore his western-leaning red-state strategy for the general election and his commitment to Alaska as part of the plan. The last time a major party nominee campaigned in Alaska was 1960, when Richard Nixon adopted his own more rash version of the "50-state strategy."
So far, in addition to Pustay, Obama has only two other paid staff members here, Alaska Field Director Chris Farrell and General Election Director Patrick DeTemple. Pustay has lived in Alaska since 2004, and DeTemple just arrived from Obama's headquarters in Chicago. All of them addressed the chanting crowd.
Farrell told the group the well-known story of Edith Child, the elderly councilwoman from South Carolina who, in a small town there, banged her cane and chanted and became the inspiration for Obama's "fired up and ready to go" mantra.
In fact, Farrell told the same story in the same room shortly after he came to Alaska last winter, fresh from the Iowa caucuses, to organize for the Alaska caucus. Some were wary of him then, this guy from Rhode Island with a shock of red hair who wore retro-preppy clothes and clapped his hands and paced and who told us that he was here to help us bring out supporters in droves for the February caucus. In 2004, only about 700 Alaskans showed up for the Democratic caucus.
Yet a little more than a month after Farrell arrived, about 9,000 people stood up to caucus all across this red state, which is more than twice the size of Texas and larger than Peru. Roughly 75 percent of those caucusers were Obama supporters.
Farrell left in February and went to Ohio and Indiana and Wyoming. He's back and this time promises to bring a small army with him. He says that "dozens" of organizers are being hired from Alaska and around the country and that the first wave will arrive this weekend.
Recent polls confirm that an Obama visit and the grass-roots rallying of support might not be wasted effort. On June 16, Rasmussen Reports had John McCain with only a four percentage point lead over Obama in Alaska.
And today, a respected local pollster, David Dittman, who is working for U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, released a poll that was conducted among 507 Alaskans in 64 different communities between June 6 and 17. Dittman's poll has McCain at 42 percent and Obama at 37 percent, with 17 percent still undecided.
"I was very surprised by these results," Dittman said. "I would have thought John McCain would be up by double digits here." He attributes tepid support for McCain here to McCain's position on ANWR: most Alaskans support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve; McCain doesn't.
Obama doesn't support drilling in ANWR either, but he and his team have faith that they'll win this state. Alaska, Pustay, said is "truly the poster child" for Obama's ability to change the electoral map.
"This is going to be a revolution," she told the crowd.