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Obama: Has he lost white, working-class voters?

Barack Obama has a problem, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. The problem isn

Barack Obama has a problem, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. The problem isn’t Hillary Clinton, who kept her slim hopes alive by winning last week’s Pennsylvania primary. The problem isn’t the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the loudmouthed radical currently embarrassing his former congregant all over again in a national media blitz. No, “America is Mr. Obama’s problem.” Exit polls from Pennsylvania confirmed what many were starting to suspect—that Obama is failing to connect with white, rural, working-class voters. The problem isn’t so much racial as it is “social, cultural, and ideological,” said syndicated columnist Patrick Buchanan. Obama’s pose as a centrist who transcends both race and politics has fallen apart; now he’s coming into focus as a charter member of the “leftist elite,” smugly sure that “bitter” small-town voters “cling to guns, Bibles, and bigotries as crutches.” It sure didn’t help when we learned about Obama’s friendship with former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers, or when we heard another dose of the Rev. Wright’s grating rhetoric. The real issue this November may not be Iraq or the economy. It may be: “Is Barack Obama one of us, or is he one of them?”

If that sounds familiar, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online, it may be because voters were asking a similar question in 1988, 2000, and 2004. In those presidential elections, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry all failed to connect to rural and small-town voters. Like them, Obama is tone-deaf to life outside the big cities; in trying to commiserate with Iowans about the rising cost of food, he actually cited the price of arugula at Whole Foods. The problem, said Joe Klein in Time, is that Obama isn’t even trying to connect with blue-collar voters—at least not the way most politicians do. In debates and on the trail, he looks cool, almost wryly aloof, disdaining Clinton’s shot-and-a-beer pandering and blatant attempts to connect with working-class voters. Intent on escaping the Old Politics, Obama thought he could win the nomination without stooping that low. “But that assumption hit a wall in Pennsylvania.”

One state does not an election make, said Steve Kornacki in The New York Observer. The “gruesome portraits” of Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry as out-of-touch elitists were so effective only because “the public personalities of each of these men inclined voters to believe the worst about them.” In short, they really were a bloodless bunch of stiffs. Obama, by contrast, is warm and likable, with a truly extraordinary gift that was on full display during last month’s “intelligent, soul-searching, and deeply personal speech” about the Rev. Wright. He “inspires more voters than not to believe the best about him.” In that respect, he’s very much like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom sailed to two-term presidencies on the strength of the “power of personal appeal.”

Reagan and Clinton weren’t black, though, said Colbert King in The Washington Post. One particularly “sour note” in the Pennsylvania exit-poll data was the 12 percent of voters who said that race had been a factor in their choice of candidate, and “those voters went with Clinton by a proportion of 3-to-1.” More ominous still, said Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times, polls on the morning of the primary showed Obama trailing by a mere 3.6 percentage points, and he ended up losing by 9.2 points. This would seem to be clear-cut evidence of the “dreaded ‘Bradley effect,’” in which white voters tell pollsters they’ll vote for a black candidate, but decline to do so in the privacy of the voting booth. This is a deeply troubling development for Democrats.

Obama’s had a rough few weeks, said Alan Abramowitz in The New Republic. But let’s keep things in perspective. In November, the Democratic nominee—Obama, in all probability—is going to be running against a Republican Party saddled with a crumbling economy, a highly unpopular foreign war, and a terrible, eight-year track record. Americans now disagree with Republicans “on almost every major issue.” That’s why no one should believe the Clinton supporters who say they’ll stay home, or vote for McCain, if Hillary doesn’t get the nomination, said syndicated columnist Ann McFeatters. In the end, will rank-and-file Democrats really cast their ballot for the guy who “wants to keep the war in Iraq going,” and extend most of George Bush’s policies for another term? “Yes, it will be a hard-fought, nasty campaign that could well result in another squeaker,” but it’ll be the war, the economy, and health care that will decide the winner—not arugula and the Rev. Wright.

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