Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is launching a campaign to win his party's primary in Utah on Feb. 5, including opening a field office in Salt Lake City.

"It's going to be a very intensive effort," the Illinois senator's national campaign manager, David Plouffe, told Utah reporters Wednesday in a telephone conference call. "Our focus is going to be on growing Utah."

There's already support for Obama in Republican-dominated Utah. A Deseret Morning News poll in October found that Utah Democrats strongly favor Obama over the national front-runner for the Democratic nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

And, Plouffe said, more than 3,000 Utahns have already signed up to volunteer for Obama.

"This is not like opening up an office that will be like the Maytag repairman situation," Plouffe said, referring to the appliance advertisements that feature a lonely and ignored repairman. "I think we have the strongest grassroots organization in Utah by far."

At least of any Democratic presidential contender. Although Plouffe said repeatedly Obama's campaign field office would be a first for the state, he acknowledged he was only talking about Democrats.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney already has an extensive operation in the state and has raised millions of dollars from Utahns. Romney is clearly the front-runner in Utah, among the reddest of all states.

That's because Romney is well-known to Utahns as the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as are a majority of the state's residents.

Obama attracted hundreds of Utahns to a hastily organized rally outside Park City last summer during a fund-raising stop in the state. Clinton has not come to Utah, although her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made an appearance for her here last month.

Hillary Clinton's campaign is seeking volunteers from Utah to help get the vote out — in Nevada. The neighboring state, where caucuses will be held Jan. 19, is considered up for grabs in November 2008.

Plouffe said Obama's popularity in Utah shows why he's the party's best choice. "He has a special appeal to independents and moderate Republicans," the campaign manager said. "I think we're going to be able to be more competitive in a lot more states than Sen. Clinton."

Maybe even in Utah. While Plouffe stopped short of promising the Utah campaign effort would stay strong if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he wasn't willing to write off the state, either.

"In terms of exactly what states will be in play in a heavy way, it's too early to say," Plouffe said. "Clearly, if Sen. Obama is the nominee, we're going to have a much wider playing field. ... He can put states that have not historically been in play, in play."

The campaign has hired Aaron Wiley, a University of Utah graduate who has worked on local Democratic campaigns as Utah field director. Wiley will organize efforts to contact voters by telephone and door-to-door as well as recruit more volunteers.

The office is located at 1747 S. 900 West and is scheduled to officially open Dec. 8 at noon.


E-mail: [email protected]