‘Expanding’ electoral map boosts Obama in borderline states

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is interviewed during a taping of Meet the Press on Saturday in London. Aboard his return flight to the U.S., Obama predicted close races in southern and southwestern states as his focus tu Peter Macdiarmid, The Associated Press

Getty Images for Meet The Press

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is interviewed during a taping of “Meet the Press” on Saturday in London. Aboard his return flight to the U.S., Obama predicted close races in southern and southwestern states as his focus tu Peter Macdiarmid, The Associated Press

By David Espo

CHICAGO – With 100 days remaining in the race for the White House, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama says he has succeeded in expanding the electoral map in his race against John McCain, principally in southern and southwestern states but also in Montana and North Dakota.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to win all those states but at least we’re making it a contest and giving voters something to choose from,” he said in an interview aboard his campaign jet on the way back from an overseas trip.

“Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia are all states where we are competitive,” he said, adding he is going “toe to toe” with his rival in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Before leaving Europe on Saturday, Obama told reporters he might suffer a small drop in the polls after being out of the country for more than a week. In the AP interview and an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” he indicated he intends to shift his focus quickly toward the economy and other domestic issues in the coming days.

Depending on actions the current administration and Congress take, he told AP a new economic stimulus package may be his first legislative request from lawmakers if he takes office as the 44th president in January. He has called previously for additional tax rebates and other measures to help revive the economy and intends to convene a meeting on the subject Monday in Washington.

With little pause after his trip to two war zones, the Middle East and Europe, Obama resumes campaigning later this week in the swing states with stops in Missouri and Iowa as well as a fundraising visit to Texas.

One month before the Democratic National Convention opens, he declined to say whether he has personally interviewed any potential vice presidential running mates.

“I’m not going to discuss it,” he said aboard his plane.

On NBC, he expanded in only the most general terms, saying, “I want somebody who I’m compatible with, who I can work with, who has a shared vision, who certainly complements me in the sense that they provide a knowledge base or an area of, of expertise that can be useful. … “In the AP interview, Obama sidestepped when asked whether a peace accord is possible in the Middle East before another election is held in Israel, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is weakened by a corruption investigation.

“It’s hard for me to gauge Israeli politics right now,” he said, although he added Olmert had moved forward “in a serious way” with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since a meeting sponsored by the Bush administration in Annapolis, Maryland.

While in the Middle East last week, Obama met with both men and said both sides struggle with internal political problems, referring to a Fatah-Hamas split among Palestinians and Olmert’s situation.

“One of the difficulties that we have right now is that in order to make those compromises you have to have strong support from your people. And the Israeli government right now is unsettled,” he said.