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Obama looks to turn Georgia blue

  • Story Highlights
  • Georgia has voted Republican in five of the last six presidential elections
  • Analysts say the African-American vote and Bob Barr could boost Obama's chances
  • Republicans defend their state as John McCain territory
  • Obama won Georgia's Democratic primary; Mike Huckabee won GOP contest
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday campaigned in Georgia, a Republican-leaning state that his campaign hopes to turn blue.

"It's good to be in Georgia," Obama told a crowd in Powder Springs.

"I've often said that I'm running for president to put the American dream within reach for every American. And that means making sure that if you work hard, you'll be able to build a better life not just for yourself, but for your children and grandchildren."

Obama's campaign is hoping his message will resonate with Georgians in a state that has voted Republican in five of the last six presidential elections. Check out the electoral map »

The last Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election was Bill Clinton in 1992. Georgia was also the only Southern state to support President Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia, in his 1980 re-election bid against Ronald Reagan. Video Watch CNN's Tom Foreman report on Obama's red state push »

Georgia political observers said Tuesday that Obama has a chance of winning the state in November, but only if the political winds are at his back. Video Watch how Obama's trying to win Georgia »

Obama has made some major ad buys in the state. He spent more than $213,000 on campaign ads between April and June, while John McCain's campaign spent nothing, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, CNN's consultant on television political advertising.

"I think what Obama knows is that a bad economy under a Republican president creates opportunities for Democrats everywhere," said Bill Schneider, a CNN senior political analyst.

A win for Obama could be in the works if he is able to mobilize his supporters and if Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr, a former Georgia GOP congressman, can chip away at McCain's base, experts say.

"If [Bob Barr] gets votes anywhere, he's likely to get them from Georgia, and most of his votes are likely to come at McCain's expense," Schneider said. "If you've got Barr taking votes from the Republicans, and you've got a heavy African-American vote for the Democrats, Georgia could be in play."

Georgia has more African-Americans than any other state except Texas and New York, and could soon surpass them.

Obama won the state's Democratic primary on February 5 with more than 700,000 votes -- including almost nine out of every 10 African-American Democrats.

In the Republican primary, McCain received just under 305,000 votes, and lost the state to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

During the primary season, McCain had trouble winning over some evangelical voters -- an important part of his party's base in Georgia.

Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said he thinks Obama could carry the state, but to do so the Illinois Democrat would need national momentum on his side. Then Georgia "falls into the column," he said.

Swint said he thinks that Obama has a much better chance of picking up Virginia -- another Southern state that voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004, but has been trending Democratic in the past few years.

"I actually think he has a chance in Virginia, and that is saying a lot," Swint said. "North Carolina and Georgia are going to be tougher and that is because he needs to get a certain percentage of white, middle class voters to actually win the state, and that is going to be tough for any liberal Democratic candidate."

Virginia's 13 electoral votes are up for grabs, according to a CNN analysis of the electoral map. Georgia has 15 electoral votes.

The Republicans are well aware of Obama's attempts to claim victory in Georgia.

Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss held a conference call with reporters Monday ahead of Obama's visit and pointed to a recent poll that shows McCain with a 10-point lead in their state.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution published an editorial Tuesday headlined, "Obama tries to make Georgia seem in play; it isn't."

"If Obama wins Georgia, he'll occupy the White House," conservative AJC columnist Jim Wooten wrote.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe unveiled the campaign's 50-state strategy last month. They plan to campaign in every state -- even the ones that have been Republican strongholds for decades.

Plouffe said that the goal going forward was to play off the enthusiasm to recruit volunteers, solicit donations and -- perhaps most importantly -- register voters and make sure they turn out in November.

Plouffe acknowledged that several core Republican states, like Texas, won't be in play but said they will staff them nonetheless to help with the large grassroots efforts that have arisen.


McCain's strategy to defend the red states is two-fold, according to Schneider.

"He says two things -- One: I'm a conservative. Two: I'm not Bush," Schneider said.

CNN's Mark Preston, Alexander Marquardt and Kristi Keck contributed to this report.

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