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Dem governors paving the way for Obama

From NBC's Bill Hatfield
DENVER -- If Obama wins this November, he may want to send thank-you cards to the nation's Democratic governors for laying the groundwork for his victory.

That, at least, was today's message from the top three members of the Democratic Governors Association -- West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Montana's Brian Schweitzer, and Maryland's Martin O'Malley. The governors met with reporters today to offer bullish assessments of Democratic governors' races in 2008, as well as in 2010. But they spent much of the news conference arguing that they helped paved the way for Obama, linking their styles of bipartisan, problem-solving governance to Illinois Democrat's prospects in November.

Manchin, the DGA chair, tied the Democratic governors' expanded ranks since 2000 to Obama's strong performance in reliably Republican states. "Who would have thought in 2004 or 2000 that a Democrat would be competitive in Montana ... or Colorado?" Manchin observed. Schweitzer agreed, declaring that governors can move elections. "If Ted Strickland had been governor of Ohio four years ago, George Bush wouldn't be president of the United States right now."

Schweitzer, who is up for reelection in the fall and enjoys high approval ratings, linked his performance as governor to Obama's competitive showing against McCain in Montana polls. He emphasized problem-solving governance that crosses party lines, pointing to his own selection of a Republican as lieutenant governor. Schweitzer also applauded Obama for being in touch with Montanans. Tomorrow marks Obama's fifth visit to the state, Schweitzer proudly noted.

Manchin, also facing reelection in November, was more realistic about Obama's chances in West Virginia. Obama was trounced by Hillary Clinton in the state primary, and now runs behind McCain in state polls.  Despite that, Manchin insisted "we are in play" in November, although many analysts wouldn't agree with that assessment. Obama's hurdle, he said, is that West Virginians aren't as familiar with him as they should be. "West Virginians have to know you," Manchin said, pointing to Bill Clinton's comfort level with the state's blue-collar voters during his two terms in office.

The governors were asked whether McCain's potential choice of a Republican governor -- Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, for instance -- might give McCain's ticket an edge in executive experience over the all-Senate Obama-Biden ticket. Schweitzer joked, "I'd sure have to worry if McCain picked another white guy as his vice president." All three governors believed Joe Biden would be a tremendous boost for Obama.

Manchin, Schweitzer, and O'Malley then outlined the governor's races they believed to be most important this fall. They proclaimed confidence in Democrats' chances in New Hampshire, Washington, Delaware, North Carolina, and Missouri -- along with Manchin's and Schweitzer's own reelection efforts. Manchin said Vermont could be a "squeaker," and said the Utah and North Dakota races were particular challenges. 

Finance chair O'Malley reported the DGA was on track to reach its fundraising goal of $20 million for 2008, with $16 million on hand. The DGA considers the 2010 cycle a "critical juncture," O'Malley said, because of the opportunity for state governors to influence congressional and legislative redistricting efforts which occur every 10 years.