JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Democratic and Republican presidential
campaigns may soon turn their focus to Mississippi - the site of
the candidates' first debate later this month.
Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are back on the
campaign trail with their respective running mates, Alaska GOP Gov.
Sarah Palin and U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.
Neither has scheduled pre-debate appearances in the state.
Instead, their camps will be focused on less aggressive, more
grassroots-type campaigning, such as distributing campaign
materials and holding registration drives.
The debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford is Sept.
Mississippi voters have gone solidly Republican in every
presidential election since President Jimmy Carter won it for
Democrats in 1976.
Both sides appear to be leaving most of their campaign efforts
in Mississippi largely up to volunteers and state party officials.
Obama's campaign has a Mississippi headquarters in Jackson with
a mostly volunteer staff, while the Mississippi Republican Party
has been handling McCain's efforts.
Obama spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said that from now to the
election, "neighbor-to-neighbor programs" will make up the bulk
of Obama's efforts in Mississippi.
"Instead of relying solely on paid staff and ads, our campaign
is building a different kind of organization in all 50 states -
based on local people talking to their own neighbors, family and
friends," she wrote in an e-mail.
Still, Roussell said she was confident Obama still had a chance
in heavily Republican Mississippi.
"The Obama-Biden campaign will bring the change Mississippi
needs to lower gas prices, fix the economy and end the war in
Iraq," she said. "Barack Obama and Joe Biden know the pain
Mississippians are feeling at the pump, at the grocery stores, and
with the state's sons and daughters away in Iraq."
Both campaigns also are hoping to reach Mississippians with a
message of unity.
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White said he was
reinvigorated by the McCain campaign's message of "reaching out to
people of all walks of life - Republicans, independents, Democrats,
men, women, black, white - they are appealing to everyone."