CONCORD, N.H. – Barack Obama predicted that black voter turnout would swell by at least 30 percent if he wins the presidential nomination, giving Democrats victory in Southern states that have been voting Republican for decades.
"I'm probably the only candidate who having won the nomination can actually redraw the political map," Obama told a Democratic voter skeptical that he could defeat a Republican candidate.
"I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum," Obama said. "Young people's percentage of the vote goes up 25-30 percent. So we're in a position to put states in play that haven't been in play since LBJ."
Lyndon Baines Johnson ran for president in 1964 and won in a landslide. But since then the South has turned into a Republican stronghold.
Obama's comment came in response to former New Hampshire state Rep. Carol Moore, who told him the candidate to get her vote will be the one she feels has the best chance of winning in the general election because she's so scared another Republican will replace President Bush. She asked Obama what made him think he could win. Another voter later told Obama because of his lack of experience, "by any stretch of the imagination, it would be a leap of faith to vote for you."
Obama often rejects the politics of "who's up, who's down," but he showed he was following the polls. He said he fares best among independent voters, that he has lower negative ratings than his Democratic rivals and is leading Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson in head-to-head matchups.
"I would include McCain, but John's having trouble right now, so that's not that big of a feat," Obama said of the Republican senator from Arizona, drawing laughter at the packed house party in the state capital attended by about 70 people.
Obama noted that in Mississippi, blacks make up more than a third of the state's population, but make up a smaller share of the electorate.
"If we just got African-Americans in Mississippi to vote their percentage of the population, Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state," Obama said. He said Georgia would also turn Democratic and South Carolina would be in play.
Obama said his biggest weakness in the general election would be the same as in the primary where Hillary Rodham Clinton is his chief opponent -- overcoming the perception that he hasn't been on the national stage long enough and isn't tough enough to win.
"Let me tell you, if I beat the Clintons, folks aren't going to ask whether I'm tough enough," Obama said to laughter from the crowd.
Obama said he has "no doubt that there will be attempts to dirty me up," but he is determined to respond quickly to attacks if he wins the nomination.
"I'm in a very strong position now," Obama said. "I will be in a very strong position after I win the nomination. I mean, let's face it, if I win the nomination, it's pretty big news."
Obama rival John Edwards has been arguing that he is the most electable candidate in the South because he is from North Carolina and Obama and Clinton have never run in the South.
"Senator Obama is right and wrong," said Edwards spokesman Chris Kofinis. "He's right that the American people want change, but wrong about who will bring that change. Senator Edwards is the strongest Democratic nominee because it's his bold transformational ideas that will increase turnout by 30 percent amongst African-Americans, whites, women and all Americans."
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson responded: "Hillary Clinton is surging and leading in both national primary and general election polls because Americans know she is the candidate with the strength and experience to make change happen. She has a 20-point lead in the primary and is beating the leading Republicans in red states like Ohio, Florida and Arkansas."