How 'Bout That 49th State?

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina – What's so funny about Alaska?

Senator Barack Obama drops a reference to the state into almost every speech lately, not so much as a punch line, but as an inside joke that, to his supporters, needs no explaining.

"I have traveled, crisscrossed the entire country," he told several thousand supporters in and around Asheville's high school football field on Sunday. "We've been to 49 states. I think the only state I haven't been to is Alaska."

He's no Tina Fey. No matter.

The crowd stopped his speech with a roar of whooping and cheering, as crowds have all week when he peppers his remarks with the not-very-subtle dig at Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin, without ever mentioning her name.

"And if you think that Washington lobbyists who are working day and night to elect John McCain are doing it to put themselves out of business," he said in Newport News, Va. on Saturday, "well, I've got a bridge in Alaska to sell you."

Ms. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, has been eviscerating the senator of late, accusing him of harboring anti-American sentiments and "palling around with terrorists," jibes that seem to be as popular among her supporters as his lines are with his.

There was a time during the primaries when Alaska mattered to the Obama campaign, who was fighting for every delegate in the race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, but it seems safe to say the senator's not counting on its electoral votes now.

Mr. Obama's Alaska routine adds some levity to an increasingly acerbic campaign. In his remarks on Sunday and in a new television ad, the Obama campaign has sought to preempt what Mr. Obama referred to as "Swift Boat"-style attacks on his character, like Ms. Palin's in Colorado and California over the weekend. "They'd rather try to tear our campaign down than lift this country up," he said. "That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time."

(Mr. McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, said the criticism amounted to legitimate questioning of Mr. Obama's relationship with William Ayers, a founder of the 1960's-era radical group, the Weather Underground.)

"I have to say if there's a prettier state than North Carolina, I have not seen it yet," he said at a Democratic dinner on Saturday night in Asheville. "I confess that I haven't been to Alaska."

The assembled Democrats lapped it, cheering wildly as a man in the back of the room shouted, "You can see it from Russia."

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