Alaska has the most land of any state but only three Electoral College votes, and President Bush got 61 percent of the vote there four years ago. So when Barack Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe suggested last week that the Democrat might make a campaign trip there, eyebrows were raised.
Newsweek's Andrew Romano wondered if every reporter covering Plouffe's press briefing at Democratic National Committee headquarters responded to this Alaska talk by "scribbling 'crazy' in his notebook. And underlining it. Twice."
Crazy or not, Plouffe's half-baked Alaska idea is apparently sincere.
"That is the plan -- we are pretty sure he's going to come at the end of the summer," Obama's newly named Alaska campaign director, Kat Pustay, told the Anchorage Daily News. "The campaign in Chicago is saying this is a battleground state so we're going to get resources."
The last presidential candidate to make a campaign trip to Alaska was Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon carried Alaska, but he narrowly lost the election to John F. Kennedy.
Most observers concluded that the Republican's time-consuming journey to Fairbanks on the Sunday before Election Day -- fulfilling an earlier pledge to campaign in all 50 states -- was a blunder.
HOWEVER MISBEGOTTEN Obama's Alaska expedition might be, at least the people there are eligible to vote for him. That's more than can be said for the folks the Democrat will encounter on the overseas trip the Obama campaign announced over the weekend.
The July trip to England, France, Germany, Jordan and Israel "will be an important opportunity for me to assess the situation in countries that are critical to American national security, and to consult with some of our closest friends and allies about the common challenges we face," Obama said in the press release announcing his travel plans.
The trip likely also will be "an important opportunity" for Republicans to score points at Obama's expense. The same GOP wits who dubbed the most recent Democratic presidential candidate John Francois Kerry are sure to have a fun-filled field day with Obama's world tour.
More practically, every day Obama spends hobnobbing with the elite in Paris and Bonn is a day not spent campaigning in the handful of swing states where this year's election is likely to be decided -- a roster that, contrary to the giddy hopes at Obama HQ, won't include Alaska.
Obama's European excursion, like Plouffe's remarks last week about sending the candidate to Alaska, Wyoming, and perhaps Texas, is apparently an expression of the sublime optimism that seems to have seized the minds of the Democrat's top campaign operatives.
With few exceptions, the Beltway press was knocked out by Plouffe's Power Point presentation Wednesday (here's the video version) in which he boldly declared that John McCain has "very little" chance to capture any of the 19 states and 251 electoral votes won by Kerry four years ago, while Obama has lots of chances to win the states that Bush won in 2004.
"The point is we've got a lot of states where we're playing offense. John McCain has limited opportunity to win back Kerry states," Plouffe said as he reprised his presentation for Obama's supporters, praising their candidate's "unique strength in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada," as well as among independents, youth and black voters.
Liberals like Eleanor Clift ate this stuff up with a spoon. Plouffe executed his electoral-map slideshow with "surgical precision," Clift wrote at Newsweek. "Plouffe is convincing, and here's why: He ran a brilliant primary campaign."
HOWEVER "BRILLIANT" it may have been, the way Obama won the nomination is actually cause to doubt his strength in the general election.
As Hillary Clinton's supporters repeatedly pointed out, Obama earned his delegate margin in caucus states -- which emphasize the grassroots organizing that is his campaign's specialty -- and among black voters in Southern states that will almost certainly end up in the Republican column on Nov. 4.
Moreover, Obama didn't win any of the big "swing" states of the past two elections -- notably Florida and Ohio -- and he didn't even contest traditionally Democratic states like Kentucky and West Virginia won by Bush in 2004.
Those polls, however, were anomalous outliers published during a week when the Gallup daily tracking poll consistently showed the race tied, or nearly so. And Democrats nearly always do better in summer polls than they do on Election Day. As Paul West of the Chicago Tribune noted, as late as July 1988, Mike Dukakis had a 17-point lead over George H.W. Bush.
Even as Plouffe made his confident predictions and Obama announced his foreign itinerary, signs of potential problems for the Democrat kept cropping up. Despite Friday's pageant of togetherness in Unity, New Hampshire, resentment still simmers between the Obama and Clinton camps, with Bill Clinton reportedly declaring that Obama will have to "kiss my ass" if he wants the ex-president's support.
AS EVIDENCE THAT Team Obama has taken its eye off the ball, consider the "Unite for Change" house parties that campaign volunteers hosted Saturday, intended to highlight the "unity" theme of Friday's Obama-Clinton show in New Hampshire.
A Democrat who hosted a "Pie and Coffee Social" in central Pennsylvania told me that there was "very short notice … like three days," from the national campaign about the events.
The woman who'd led the local Clinton effort during the primaries was out of town on vacation, the Pennsylvanian said, and with so little time to send out invitations, he'd gotten only four RSVPs by Friday evening.
The liberal Talking Points Memo blog noted "readers from a number of other swing states reported seeing the same thing -- a flood of McCain ads and only a much smaller number of Obama ads." This is rather surprising, given the Democrat's supposedly insuperable financial edge.
Other evidence contradicting the rosy scenario painted by Plouffe includes one poll last month showing Obama ahead by a slender three points in deep-blue Connecticut, whose ex-Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman is now actively campaigning for McCain.
While the Democrat does have bright prospects in several previously Republican states, it's hard to see how Obama's handlers expect to capitalize on those chances by sending their candidate abroad to "burnish his foreign policy credentials."
During his Power Point presentation, Plouffe pointed with pride to the "enthusiasm gap" Obama enjoys over his Republican rival. As anemic as the McCain campaign may seem, the decision to send the Democratic nominee for a summer sojourn overseas indicates excessive enthusiasm at Obama HQ.
With just 125 days remaining until Nov. 4, if Obama wants to see the sights in London and Paris, expect Republicans to fondly bid him bon voyage.