Obama Becomes First Democrat to Open Utah Campaign Office

Obama Becomes First Democrat to Open Utah Campaign Office

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Saturday will become the first Democratic candidate to open up a campaign office in this highly conservative state.

With only a few dozen delegates at stake, Utah is unlikely to have an impact on whom Democrats nominate.

But Obama's campaign is hoping that after early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada that the senator from Illinois will be able to sweep more than 20 states holding a primary or caucus on Feb. 5, including Utah.

"Almost half the country is voting on February 5th, and Utah is one of those states," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager. "You simply can't wait until after Iowa to get organized."

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Plouffe said more than 3,000 Utah residents have signed up to volunteer for Obama. The field office will focus on recruiting additional supporters by knocking on doors and making plenty of phone calls.

Plouffe said that while the campaign is focused on winning in the early primary states, there would be no organized plan to send Utah volunteers into neighboring Nevada.

"For those that are inclined, we certainly will not discourage them," he said. "Our focus is going to be on growing Utah."

Obama's chief rival, N.Y. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is taking the opposite approach.

Clinton's campaign sent an e-mail to Utah Democrats on Wednesday looking for volunteers to canvass neighborhoods Saturday in Mesquite, Nev., about 40 miles southwest of St. George, Utah.

"We have had volunteers come out from California, from Arizona and a lot of the neighboring states," said Hilarie Grey, communications director for Clinton's Nevada campaign. "We have been reaching out to our fellow Democrats in others states for a while. ... Nevada really represents an early voice for the West."

It's unclear what impact Utah volunteers could have on another state's primary or caucus, said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank.

"The problem with that strategy is people coming into visit aren't going to be the most influential kind of people to mobilize for a caucus setting. You can't say, 'I'm going to caucus, so you can too.' The reality is that at best it's a matter of having a presence and having a few more volunteers," Burbank said. The Nevada caucuses are Jan. 19.

However, Burbank said that in the general election having a volunteer base ready in Utah could prove advantageous in winning over traditionally Republican neighboring states such as Colorado. He said general elections often end up being a contest to see who can mobilize the most resources in key states.

Plouffe said winning in Utah would be important symbolically because it would show Obama can win over voters in the West. He said Obama would fare better in the general election than Clinton by making a strong showing in the West, where Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico are expected to be new battleground states.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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