Obama Looks to Bank Votes While GOP Fights

7.9

-- Combined average unemployment rate in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Arizona and Michigan in January 2009.

8.8

-- Current combined average unemployment rate in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Arizona and Michigan.

President Obama’s current campaign trip reveals a great deal about his strategy for November.

After a soft roll out in the fall with an address to a joint session of Congress and tour of mostly Eastern swing states, Obama kicked off the more overt phase of his re-election campaign on Tuesday with another speech in the House and a push through Western battlegrounds.

The fall swing and the current mid-winter blitz are very similar in message and style, but are different in scope and geography. The fall speech and tour now looks like a rehearsal for the current post-State of the Union re-election push.

This campaign trip and the speech that launched it are about making an early effort to lock up votes that Democrats believe will fall their way eventually. This is, in military terms, trying to get to the high ground first.

Much of the previous year was about staying competitive in the hard-to-win places and hoarding cash. The current moment is about taking advantage of having the general election field to himself while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are busy trying to garrote each other.

With the president returning to his typical upper 40s in job approval polls after a year-end swoon and the economy back to slow but steady growth, Democrats believe this is the perfect time to start stacking up the 270 electoral votes Obama needs to win another four years in power.

Michigan hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential nominee since 1988 and Iowa, a central part of the Obama political mythos, has gone red only once since 1984, falling to George W. Bush in his re-election bid. These are places the president believes will belong to him come November.

His emphasis on the bailouts for GM and Chrysler and his proposal for preferential tax treatment for manufacturers are pointed right at union Democrats in these states.

The rest of trip is revealing, too.

Obama has long known that he would rely heavily on Western states to win another term since his condition with voters in several Eastern states he won in 2008, particularly Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, give him little chance of re-creating his electoral map from last time.

In 2008, Obama had a 95 electoral vote cushion, so he can certainly afford some retrenching. Even if he gave up all 57 electoral votes in the Southeast he won before, Obama would still win re-election handily.

But, of course, there’s the matter of the Rust Belt. This is where Democrats fared the worst in 2010 and where the stagnant economy has been most painful. Ohio and Pennsylvania, though shrinking, still represent a trove of 38 electoral votes and both states snapped hard right in the midterm elections.

Like the rest of the Eastern states, the I-70 corridor will continue to be a hard, expensive slog for team Obama. Residents can expect an unprecedented barrage of negative ads from candidates and super PACs and the use of advanced technologies to track and alter their political opinions.

With that awaiting them, Obama is looking to put as many votes in the electoral bank as possible and he and his campaign have long believed that the West is where they can run up the score.

The theory is that with fewer embittered voters, large Hispanic populations and encouraging trends last time around, Obama can hold on to his Western votes, the three coastal states plus Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, and perhaps even add some.

While New Mexico looks tricky this year, Obama believes that he might be able to pull off an upset in usually bright-red Arizona or at least force the Republican nominee to spend time and resources there.

We’ll see about those two states depending on what shape the economy and the electorate are in 40 weeks from now. But one thing we know for sure is that Nevada and Colorado will be seeing a lot more of Obama on future trips. The 15 electoral votes they hold could give Obama the breathing room he needs to overcome Eastern setbacks.

Nevada has a huge Union presence and Colorado has a large number of the educated and affluent urbanites and suburbanites who are key to Obama’s national strategy. But both states have taken an economic pounding during the last three years and are home to many of the angry independents who delivered the stinging 2010 rebuke to the president.

It is not a coincidence that Obama today will visit a unionized shop in Nevada and to tout an anti-global warming effort by the military in Colorado. Union members and environmentally minded voters, especially women, are big parts in how Obama hopes to lock up the West.

And the more time his eventual Republican opponent has to spend on this small but crucial clutch of electoral votes, the more time Obama has to stay on offense back East.

And Now, A Word From Charles

Bret Baier: People like this show because we don’t yell.

Juan Williams: We don’t yell. But let me just say one thing, quietly, calmly – you know me – about the Koch brothers.

Charles Krauthammer: Juan, you know I’m licensed to sedate you.

Juan Williams: Actually, if you knew my wife, she would appreciate that.

-- Exchange on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.