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Alaska beckons for Barack Obama, but he may take a pass

July 10, 2008 | 10:42 am

The surprises in the list of locales where Barack Obama's campaign broadcast its first general election ad included Alaska, which in the 12 presidential elections its participated in since joining the union in 1959 has gone Democratic exactly once -- in Lyndon Johnson's 1964 rout of Barry Goldwater.

But does Obama's decision to at least give the appearance of competing for Alaska's three electoral votes Lyndon Johnson is the one and only Democratic presidential candidate to carry Alaskaportend a visit by the candidate?

His organizers there, bouyed by a Rasmussen poll in June indicating that race might be close, are hopeful. Kat Pustay, the campaign's Alaska director recently told the Anchorage Daily News, "That is the plan -- we are pretty sure he's going to come at the end of the summer."

But Obama has thrown some cold water on that prospect.

At the end of Jeff Zeleny's nicely done New York Times piece today on how Obama's White House quest has given him his first opportunity to travel throughout the nation, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee says that "I’ve had a chance now to campaign in 49 states. The only place that I have not been yet is Alaska."

Obama added: "I will make it to Alaska at some point, but maybe after I’m president. I can’t wait."

Perhaps its an awareness of political history that led Obama to decline making a commitment to stump in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Richard Nixon, in general terms, did just that in his speech accepting the 1960 Republican presidential nomination, telling his listeners: "I announce to you tonight, and I pledge to you, that I, personally, will carry this campaign into every one of the 50 states of this nation between now and November the 8th."

Richard Nixon as he appeared on television during a 1960 debate with John Kennedy That was in late July. As his hard-fought battle with John Kennedy proceeded into its final days, Nixon had made it to every state ... save Alaska. In a tactical move that has come to be second-guessed whenever that famed campaign is revisited, Nixon lived up to his pledge. And, as historian Richard Norton Smith recounted on a PBS program four years ago, "that meant on the Saturday before the election, when he should have been in Illinois or Texas, he was on a plane headed for Alaska, which in those days, that was a lot more remote a destination than it is today."

As Smith put it, Nixon "paid a high price on Election Day" -- he lost both Illinois and Texas by small margins and, with those defeats, lost the White House. (He did, however, squeak out a victory in Alaska.)

-- Don Frederick

Photo: Lyndon Johnson / LBJ Library / Frank Wolfe; Richard Nixon / Associated Press