I play this map a lot.
It depends on how many terri--er, "counties," you get to start with. Go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_(United_States
That's a list of number of counties by state. If you start out with, say, 15 spots and 10 per county, and the settings are at 2 per neutral, you should stagger your picks in North Carolina or North Dakota. After two turns, you SHOULD have the whole state. Regardless, however many picks you get that will get you a whole state the soonest is the right call. Also, throw a pick in each of the South and the Ohio region; nobody seems to go there to start. (Everyone wants the West Coast or New England, which is good, because they are fighting each other, instead of you)
If it's 1 vs. 1, though, grab the West coast--by the time you meet the enemy in your push to the East, you should be in Tennessee, at least.
Also, if you have airlift cards, keep a stockpile of armies (it turns out you really didn't need) handy and grouped together, for when you finally do meet your opposition.