While Hillary Clinton was out knocking on doors in Scranton today, Barack Obama is still trying to explain why his not an elitist. Obama supporters such as Sen. Bob Casey Jr. took to the airwaves to defend Obama against charges that he is an elitist.
“Anyone who knows Barack Obama, knows his life story, knows that that’s not true. But he expressed regret and we understand. I think he understands why some people could be offended by those words. But here’s the larger point. He was trying to express the frustration that people feel, not only with this economy, but what has been happening in Washington, where special interests have had a stranglehold on the process in Washington,” Casey said on CNN today.
The problem that Obama faces is that he made those comments about a state that is already skeptical about him. Except for the Philadelphia area, Obama is losing badly everywhere else. I know many non-Pennsylvania Obama supporters have been trying to blame the problems caused by these remarks on Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but the local media here is pummeling Obama.
Many Democrats were offended by his comments, and this is a story that isn’t going away any time soon.
This probably would have never been a big story if the Obama campaign understood Pennsylvania politics at all. Obama has all but avoided rural Pennsylvania, instead choosing to concentrate his campaign on the two major media markets Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. What started out as a grassroots campaign for change has become an exercise in paid media.
The problem is that Pennsylvania is very much a grass roots state. It is a big state with a little state mentality when it comes to campaigns. The Obama campaign doesn’t seem to get this, but Clinton does. Obama needs to be seen knocking on a few neighborhood doors. He needs to appear to be accessible and as someone who people can identify with.
There are large pockets of unemployment and poverty in this state. These people can’t identify with the biography of a man who lived in Hawaii, has an Ivy League education, and seems to have never done a day of blue collar work in his life. When framed in these terms, it is easy to see why these people would be offended by his remarks. If he would have actually spent some time in their part of the state, and let them get to know him, then he likely would be winning, and be in a position to finish off Clinton right now.
I wrote this piece because I am tired of people who don’t live here, and don’t understand what it is like in most of Pennsylvania generalizing and trying to brush under the rug a very important mistake. The bigger problem for Obama will be long term. Republicans in the state now think that they have a legit chance to win if Obama is the Democratic nominee. Democrats carried the state in 2000 and 2004 only because George W. Bush tried to bring his social conservative campaign to a state that cares more about jobs than gay marriage. Pennsylvania cares more about jobs than the concept of change. If John McCain adopts Clinton’s jobs argument in the fall, he will be strong here.
This isn’t some sort of conspiracy to bring Obama down, because his wounds were self inflicted. He needs to address this perception soon, or else the general election campaign could be about Obama the elitist versus McCain the war hero. Democrats will win this election if the issues are Iraq and the economy, but if the election becomes about Obama the out of touch liberal elitist, McCain stands a chance. I can’t and won’t support Clinton, but Obama has opened the door to a world of potential problems. Pennsylvania is the beginning of a new narrative to redefine Barack Obama, the first chapter of which Obama authored himself.