From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann and NBC's Alex Wall
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) called Obama's growing grassroots organization in Pennsylvania "unprecedented" and said that he was "confident" but not "overconfident" of an Obama victory in the Keystone State, in a conference call this morning.
Craig Schirmer, Obama's Pennsylvania campaign state director, emphasized the campaign's 24 state offices and approximately 700 neighborhood teams as key for Obama's success in November.
"Our campaign has been about the grassroots," Schirmer said. "Every day, Americans have been working to enact change through D-I-Y, or what I like to call do-it-yourself."
Neighborhood team tasks include organizing canvasses and phone banks, voter registration, church visits and faith outreach, recruitment and organizing house meetings, according to Schirmer. Each team is responsible for between five and 15 precincts.
"Neighborhoods are the ideal place to address voters, [and for supporters to] talk to their neighbors and their friends about why they are supporting Barack Obama," Schirmer said.
On voter registration: Gov. Rendell and Schirmer were both optimistic about the campaign's ability to register new voters, citing the Obama campaign's efforts before the Pennsylvania primary.
"The Obama campaign does that better than anyone anywhere," Rendell said. "If they hadn't registered so many voters before the primary, [Hillary] could have won by 14 or 15 points."
According to Schirmer, there are currently about 1.1 million eligible unregistered voters in Pennsylvania that the campaign sees as potential pick-ups.
"We are absolutely going to target them and go after them," he said.
McCain campaign's response: In contrast to Obama's 24 offices in Pennsylvania, the McCain campaign has only two statewide. But McCain has outpaced Obama in media spending in the state, with television ads running in every major media market. And McCain organizers remain skeptical of the efficiency of Obama's proposed army of neighborhood volunteers.
"The numbers may be impressive on paper," Regional Spokesman Jon Seaton said. "But when you look at what that actually means in terms of a real grassroots movement, we have philosophically figured that our committed volunteers will get our message out more effectively."
On winning over Hillary supporters: Part of the job of Obama's volunteers will be outreach to disappointed former Hillary Clinton supporters, who carried Clinton to a nine point walloping of Obama during the bitterly fought Pennsylvania primary. Rendell, formerly an influential cheerleader for Team Hillary, is optimistic that the holdovers will be converted with the help of Obama's widely dispatched foot soldiers.
"Not all of us are there yet," Rendell acknowledged. "But 90 percent of us are there, and we're getting more and more enthusiastic every day about Sen. Obama."
Rendell on Tom Ridge: Gov. Rendell acknowledged that a Tom Ridge VP pick for McCain "would make things harder," but also insisted that, "the basic message of [Obama's PA campaign] would remain the same."
"I don't underestimate Tom Ridge's popularity in Pennsylvania," Rendell said, "but I think that if we do our job we'll still win."