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Posted by on May 14, 2008 in Politics | 21 comments

Obama Focuses On Blue Collar Voters After West Virginia Primary Loss (UPDATED)

Democratic Senator Barack Obama apparently did feel the landslide of votes crushing against him in yesterday’s whopping West Virginia primary loss to Senator Hillary Clinton: today he’s out on the hustings, busily trying to shore up support among blue collar workers.

It’s a wise move, since Clinton, her supporters, and pundits will continue to talk about Obama’s very real blue collar problem. And, according to the New York Times, he is wasting no time to begin working on it:

How big a problem does Senator Barack Obama really have among white working-class voters? And what —if anything — can he do about it as he heads into the general election?

The Times notes that Obama’s campaign is pooh-poohing the idea that the West Virginia loss — which was expected — is that big a deal. But, just as Clinton hoped, the size of her victory underscored Obama’s weakness.

“You just can’t abstract from primary voters to general election voters — and all of her voters are going to vote for him,” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic consultant who is supporting Mr. Obama. Mr. Jordan pointed to a Washington Post/ABC News Poll published this week that showed Mr. Obama with a lead over Mr. McCain in a hypothetical fall match-up, and being competitive with him among these same working-class voters.

Still, there is a pattern of weakness that has shadowed Mr. Obama as he has marched his way toward winning his party’s nomination. Even accounting for the fact that West Virginia may have been the toughest state he has faced, the contours of Mr. Obama’s defeat were daunting: more than half of the Democrats said Mr. Obama did not share their values, and 47 percent said they would not vote for him if he were their nominee.

Obama’s blue collar problem isn’t new.

Obama made a concerted pitch to appeal to blue collar workers in Iowa. He worked on changing his approach to blue collar workers in Pennsylvania. Television talking (and screaming) heads have pontificated on it. Meanwhile, throughout the campaign organized labor has been divided on Obama and Clinton.

All the while Obama has insisted he could win his existing base and win over the blue collar workers.

The Clinton campaign will be arguing (as Clinton is already) that without these voters Obama can’t win in a general election — which has its key assumptions (a) Democratic voters will vote the same way in the general election as in primaries, (b) Obama can’t make significant inroads among blue collar workers, and (c) the unmentionable issue (which Hillary Clinton mentioned last week) of race.

But the key question question is likely going to be whether he has made inroads and appears to be making them making them. West Virginia itself won’t sell superdelegates on Clinton’s argument, particularly because the Democratic party would risk losing black voters if superdelegates ignored the pledge delegates and popular vote count.

So expect to see more of Obama out on the hustings, working to shore up what clearly is his weak point, while Clinton argues he simply can’t do it and that the party needs someone who already appeals to blue collar workers to win.

The bottom line: it is an Obama vulnerability and if the Obama team is smart they’ll make wooing blue collar workers an ongoing project. It is a weaknesss the GOP has most assuredly noticed.

UPDATE: The AP’s Nedra Pickler says maybe Obama should worry:

Barack Obama is in hot pursuit of general election voters, hoping America won’t notice he got his head handed to him in West Virginia.

The Illinois senator virtually pretended the primary didn’t happen Tuesday, with no election night speech or any public appearance at all after the polls closed and gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a more than 2-1 victory even though her candidacy is likely doomed.

At Obama’s Chicago headquarters, advisers said there was no reason to worry — West Virginia was demographically suited to Clinton and won’t be part of their general election plans. It’s also true that Clinton’s win is unlikely to slow his march toward the nomination — Obama picked up 30 superdelegates this week, more than the 28 total pledged delegates up for grabs in West Virginia.

But maybe the Obama camp should be more worried. The voters who went against Obama Tuesday night — white, rural, older, low-income and without college degrees — don’t just live in West Virginia. They live everywhere in the country, in places Obama needs to win.

They live in places like Macomb County, Mich., where Obama planned to start his day Wednesday by dropping by a Chrysler plant. That’s a recognition that he has work to do to win over working class voters even if his campaign doesn’t say it.

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