[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/22/art.elexex.cnn.jpg caption=" The CNN Election Express is heading across the country."] ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN ILLINOIS (CNN) - We’re heading west, making our way through what can safely be considered Obama Country.
The Democrat’s presumptive presidential nominee also has a day job, and that’s Senator from Illinois. Before that Barack Obama was a longtime state lawmaker here, and prior to that he was a community organizer in Chicago.
We’ve been driving through a number of crucial battleground states on our way from DC to Denver, site of the Democratic National Convention, but this isn’t one of them. Vice President Al Gore won Illinois by double digits in 2000, Senator John Kerry took the state by double digits four years ago, and Obama’s expected to easily win his home state this time around.
While there’s not that much electoral drama in Illinois, it’s a different story in the two states we just passed through. Indiana’s a traditional red state that Obama would like to turn blue. And Michigan’s a state that's gone for the Democrats in the past two presidential elections, but John McCain would like to turn it red.
“I appreciate the warm welcome to Indianapolis,” said John McCain on July 1, the last time he campaigned in Indiana. And if history’s any indicator, that’s what the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee should expect.
Indiana’s voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. George W. Bush won the state and its 11 electoral votes by 21 points four years ago.
But Obama’s working hard to put Indiana in play. And he may get a helping hand from Evan Bayh. Indiana’s Democratic Senator is also the state’s former two term governor. Bayh considered his own run for the White House before supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) in the primaries. Now he’s firmly backing Obama and is considered to be on Obama’s short list as a candidate for running mate. The two men campaigned together in Indiana last week.
It’s a different story in Michigan.
“I’m confident I will carry the state of Michigan,” said the Senator from Arizona last month. And McCain’s working hard to make that happen. He campaigned in Michigan on Wednesday, and it’s a safe bet he’ll be back again and again between now and election day.
And Mitt Romney may help him.
The former Massachusetts Governor was McCain’s rival during the primaries, but now he’s a major backer, and considered to be on McCain’s short list as a candidate for running mate. Romney has roots in Michigan. He grew up there and his father was the state’s governor.
Michigan’s voted for the Democratic candidates in the past four presidential elections, but it’s been close recently. Four years ago Kerry narrowly won the state and its 17 electoral votes. This time around, Obama has a slight lead in the polls.
In each state we’ve passed through, we’ve stopped and listened to voters, to find out what’s on their minds. We’ll keep doing that on the road to Denver. So if you see us, please come out and say hello.
We’re headed west. Next stop, Iowa. Another battleground state.
In a way it’s like going home, since the CNN Election Express called Iowa home for the month of December and the first few days of January. The Iowa Caucuses seem like ancient history now, but the first contest in the primary calendar made Obama a winner, and by doing that Iowa voters changed the landscape of the race for the White House.
See you in Iowa.