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Obama Leaning on Governors for Edge in Key States

As Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attempts to piece together an Electoral College victory, Democratic governors are providing a level of consultation and coordination that’s unprecedented for a Democratic presidential nominee, three Democratic governors said today in Denver.

“We’ve never seen a campaign reach out to governors as much as Obama’s,” West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said at a briefing Monday held by the Democratic Governors Association, which Manchin chairs. “We have sat down intimately with Barack, been on phone calls and talked about problems, state by state.”

While the support of a governor hardly guarantees a nominee victory in a given state, Obama is engaged in nip-and-tuck battles in a number of battlegrounds where aggressive backing by a Democratic governor could spell the difference between winning and losing.

These include Colorado, site of the Democratic National Convention, which is governed by Democrat Bill Ritter. Other Democratic governors serving in hotly contested states include Chet Culver of Iowa, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Ted Strickland of Ohio, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin.

By contrast, presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) can only rely on a handful of governors in the most competitive states. They include Charlie Crist in Florida and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, as well as Matt Blunt of Missouri, who is a lame duck this year, and Jim Gibbons of Nevada, who has been weakened by a series of scandals.

A big reason for the statehouse disparity is that the Democrats, for the first time in a decade and a half, hold a majority of the nation’s governorships: 28. As Manchin noted at the briefing, Democratic governors preside over states with 294 electoral votes — more than the 270 required to secure the White House. And that doesn’t count the 55 electoral votes from the safe Democratic state of California, which has a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another governor at the briefing, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, said that Democratic governors will be able to help Obama even in states that have historically voted Republican for president, such as his own. Because Obama has aggressively courted the Mountain West, political observers have begun to count Montana as a battleground state, albeit one that still leans Republican.

“It’s dead-dang tied now between Obama and McCain” in Montana, Schweitzer said, using one of his signature colloquialisms.

Manchin even suggested that Obama could be gaining ground in West Virginia, where he was demolished by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the state’s primary. Manchin said that Obama is closing the gap against McCain to somewhere in the high single digits.

While most analysts are highly skeptical of Obama’s chances in the Mountaineer State — which voted twice for George W. Bush — Manchin talked up Obama’s vice presidential pick, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), as someone who could connect with blue-collar voters who were skeptical about the Illinois Senator during the primary. Biden had a working-class upbringing and maintains strong union ties.

“Biden helps tremendously,” Manchin said. “He resonates.”

Asked for their opinions of two of the leading vice presidential candidates for McCain — Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) — Schweitzer downplayed the impact his fellow governors could have.

“They won’t give him any spike” in the polls, he said. “John McCain will have to win this on his own, and either of these cats — they won’t bump him up or bump him down. They’ll just be bumps.”

One of the DGA’s top priorities this year — as is the case with its counterpart, the Republican Governors Association — is to prepare for the 36 gubernatorial elections in 2010, the winners of which will help redraw Congressional district lines following the 2010 Census.

However, the Democratic governors Monday had no comment on how many House seats they think could be at stake during the post-2010 round of redistricting. Republicans have floated 30 seats.

“We have no [numerical] goal on redistricting,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also appeared at the DGA event. “What we want to be able to do is have the public not disadvantaged or thwarted or twisted by unfair line-drawing and gerrymandering.”

Meanwhile, Manchin dismissed GOP predictions of a 16-governor gain for the Republicans between now and Election Day 2010.

“We don’t see that, and we do not believe it’s even feasible,” he said.