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Columbia Missourian

Obama's back, and Springfield's got him

By CHRIS BLANK/The Associated Press
November 1, 2008 | 9:16 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD—Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was returning to one of Missouri's stronger Republican areas for a Saturday evening rally at a high school football stadium.

It will be his fourth Missouri campaign event in the past two weeks, having already hit the state's other largest metro areas of St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia.

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Polls have shown Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain essentially even in Missouri.

A spokesman for Obama's campaign said their hope is to get voters excited and ready to show up for Election Day on Tuesday.

"We're not taking any corner of this state for granted," Obama spokesman Justin Hamilton said. "We have a lot of supporters in Springfield and want to show them how important they are."

Springfield is traditional Republican territory and the home of GOP Gov. Matt Blunt. Obama and John McCain each held rallies in the city this summer before their parties' national conventions. And vice presidential candidates Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden also have campaigned in Springfield.

The swing-state of Missouri accounts for 11 electoral votes and has voted for the presidential winner every time but once in the last century, when the state picked Adlai Stevenson instead of President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

Campaigns often spend the final days trying to energize supporters and drive up turnout in friendly areas. Obama's decision to campaign in Republican territory left political scientist George Connor trying to understand his strategy.

Connor, of Missouri State University, said he couldn't think of another example where a candidate went into an opponent's base so late in the campaign.

"I can't imagine what the strategists are thinking," Connor said. "I guess they think they have milked every vote in Kansas City, St. Louis and the suburbs, so why not go to Springfield."

The closest example seems to be when Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, knocked off Republican Jim Talent in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. McCaskill focused on Missouri's cities but worked to drive down Talent's victory margins in the state's rural areas.

Obama, who counts McCaskill among his supporters, has tried to do the same thing. He's held rallies that have drawn an estimated 40,000 people in Columbia, about 75,000 in Kansas City and an estimated 100,000 people under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. But the Illinois senator has opened up dozens of Missouri field offices, many in rural and Republican-leaning areas.

Capping off the outstate Missouri effort with a large, boisterous rally could backfire and do John McCain's campaign a favor by highlighting the differences between the candidates and energizing Republican voters, Connor said.

"There are people in southwest Missouri who are fearful with an Obama presidency," Connor said.

McCain's co-chairman in Missouri, former state Rep. Jack Jackson, said Republicans are developing momentum in the final days before the election. Jackson said Obama's swing through Springfield shows that the Democrats are concerned.

"That tells me that the Democratic nominee is very worried about losing Missouri, when he tries to go into a serious Republican stronghold and take votes there," Jackson said.