From NBC's Ron Allen
NEWARK, Ohio -- For two days, Biden rode a bus south, through Eastern Ohio. His route parallels the Ohio River for the most part, along the border with West Virginia and then where it bends a bit West forming the border with Kentucky.
Biden is running a leg of a relay that "Team Obama" has been charting across this prized state with the two nominees and big-name surrogates, like the Clintons, here seven-straight days. Bill, and then Hillary Clinton will each carry the baton separately later this week.
It's obviously a state Obama is trying very hard to win, for perhaps obvious reasons.
In Ohio, the Obama campaign seems somewhat obsessed with numbers, beginning with the 118,000 or so vote John Kerry lost this state by, and therefore, the presidency.
Biden's staff circulated a memo, for example, with some numbers:
-- 89 Ohio offices for Obama
-- 43 miles is the farthest distance any Ohioan lives from an office
-- 13 barns have been painted with Obama logos. (We haven't seen them.)
-- 1900: the last year a presidential candidate visited a place called Georgetown, where Obama dropped by last week.
But in 2008, it's really all about those 118,000 votes.
A local newspaper reporter, traveling on Biden's bus said, "He's hitting the battlegrounds in The battleground."
He's campaigning through a string of counties split by President Bush and Kerry four years ago, with an emphasis on building up the numbers where the Democrats won, and more importantly shaving down the margins where they lost.
That's why Biden was on stage outdoors under a full moon, on a warm Indian summer night, in Marietta, Ohio, Washington County, Appalachia. It's an old coal-mining town. Employers like the nearby steel plant have hit hard times. The population is shrinking. Poverty rates are rising. President Bush won here by a comfortable margin.
The campaign says a place like this isn't necessarily "friendly turf." But this year they clearly see it as fertile ground. The crowd is almost exclusively white, middle and working class. Voters the "Joe Biden from hardscrabble Scranton, PA" has been sent here to connect with.
Much of Biden's speech on this evening gushes with empathy and understanding. He probably touches on every kitchen-table issue that's out there, pulling at the crowd's heartstrings with stories about the parents who must break the news to their college-age daughter, that there's no money for another semester of school. And there's the story about the guy who doesn't know how much it costs these days to fill up his car with gas, because he never has enough money to even try to top off his tank.
We've heard all of this before, and Biden's message is drawn from unfortunate, even tragic, real-life experiences he says he's heard along the trail. But the Democrats hope in Ohio, that they're reaching a lot of voters perhaps for the first time.
They're reaching into smaller towns, Marietta has some 14,515 people, and more rural communities like that town of Georgetown that hadn't seen a presidential candidate in more than 100 years. It's now no secret they're trying to do the same thing in other battlegrounds.
At stops later in the heavily Republican exurbs of Lancaster and Newark, Biden promises Obama's public-works plan to fix bridges, roads and infrastructure will bring 76,000 new jobs to Ohio.
In this state, where Biden calculates for his audience that they've lost some 240,000 manufacturing jobs the past eight years, crowds rise to their feet, cheering for the issue Democrats hope helps eliminate that 118,000-vote edge.
And summing it all up, Biden gives this assessment of McCain's campaign. "While the economy is going to hell in a hand basket…they're running the most scurrilous campaign in modern history."
Biden's Eastern Ohio bus ride ends with a turn northwest to the center of the state and its capital Columbus. Team Obama has no doubt it will run up big numbers here, and in Ohio's other urban centers. At a Democratic campaign office he rallies the ground team already hard at work with early-voting underway, predicting that this election will show how "the Obama campaign revolutionized American politics."
If not a revolution, they hope they've figured out enough new places to campaign, where Democrats don't usually go, to avoid coming up 118,000 votes short, or worse, again.