Rendell conference call on Obama campaign

Senator Barack Obama (R) (D-Il) is greeted by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell before speaking during a Democratic Unity Rally at Temple University's McGonigle Hall October 21, 2006 in Philadelphia. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

The Barack Obama presidential campaign’s focus on Pennsylvania is “unprecedented” Gov. Ed Rendell said in a news conference call I listened in on during this my first day with the Allentown Morning Call for my post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

Rendell was a noted booster for Obama’s primary opponent Hillary Clinton, but long maintained he would support whoever was the Democratic candidate. Rendell said “90 percent” of Clinton supporters are with Obama and getting “more excited” for Obama everyday.

“Pennsylvania is generally and typically a battleground state. Democrats have done well but absolutely can’t take it for granted,” said Steve Hildebrand, the national deputy Obama campaign manager. Aside from Florida, he added, Pennsylvania has the largest number of electoral votes that the campaigns are considering real battlegrounds.

The campaign has 24 offices already open in the state – 10 times as many offices as McCain – to which 93 percent of the state’s volunteers are less than a 30-minute drive, said Obama’s Pennsylvania State Director Craig Schirmer.

“That’s unprecedented,” Rendell said. “The visibility on the ground is incredible.

We confident – but not overconfident – that we will win this state.”

Brett Lieberman of the Patriot News asked whether it was possible to suggest Obama’s stance on social issues could attract conservative communities in Pennsylvania, particularly the famed ‘Pennsylvania T,‘ to which Rendell countered that the election would be focusing “much more on the American economy” so he expected “very little niche voting,” on social issues.

“A vote for John McCain is a vote for four more years of Bush’s failed economic strategy,” said Schirmer. The campaign will engage rural communities “that have been ignored for far too long.”

Rendell said that McCain is the “most appealing” candidate the Republicans have run in the last 20 years.

Rendell said that though John McCain choosing former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to be his Vice President-running mate would “make things harder,” nothing in the statewide campaign would change.

A statewide Obama campaign manager spoke of their neighborhood-based plan for voter registration and turnout, one that will be “fueled by people who want to change politics.” The campaign hopes to establish more than 700 neighborhood teams, led by captains who will be asked to dedicate 10 to 20 hours a week in community outreach, said Schirmer.

They already have 250 teams, which are charged with attracting 1.1 million unregistered, eligible voters in Pennsylvania which the campaign feels can be a net gain to Obama, Schirmer said.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

Photo courtesy of DayLife.