Blue Collar Support

Can Obama win the rural, working-class vote in a general election?

coalition of women will also come over to Obama’s side “and will not support McCain, simply because the Democrats are the party of women.”

Obama may be able to make some headway, however, by focusing part of his message on the fact that he was raised by a single mother, who sometimes relied on food stamps to feed her family, and his experience as a community organizer in Chicago, where he fought hard for people who share those voters’ experiences. “One real advantage that he has that [the 2004 nominee] Sen. John Kerry didn’t is [that] he’s campaigned so widely and in so many states, [and he] has been introduced to the electorate in ways that previous nominees couldn’t. Throughout summer, he will do more work in reintroducing himself, largely by telling more of his background and story, which I think will be a compelling narrative, particularly for lower-income voters,” Corrado says.

Obama will also need to strengthen his image as someone who will be firm in areas of foreign policy and national security. According to Pew Research findings earlier this year, 43% of voters said they believed Obama would not be tough enough. “That’s a real contrast to Sen. John McCain, who only 16% thought wouldn’t be tough enough. As we move into the general election dynamic, up against a candidate like McCain, that divide is potentially a big issue,” Dimock says. “I’m sure the McCain campaign is seeing these polls and will focus on those themes.”

It will help to take a page out of former president Bill Clinton’s playbook and remember that it’s still the economy. “McCain’s pretty unyielding free trade stance will help Obama in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and places like that,” says John Fortier, of the American Enterprise Institute. “Those are areas he can appeal to.” Fortier adds that “emphasizing the differences between Democrats and Republicans more generally as a party and issues like the scary economy will help, but it won’t win over voters who are more inclined culturally to not vote for him.”

Then of course, there are the endorsements, particularly those coming from superdelegates. Despite his state’s enormous support of Clinton in West Virginia’s recent primary, the state’s beloved and long-serving senior senator, Robert Byrd, has endorsed Obama. “Our general finding is endorsements don’t move the needle substantially, but can certainly help. He’ll need to make the case in his own speeches, but also through proxies,” Dimock says. “Byrd is a good example: He’s a very beloved figure within his state who has credibility. People understand that he is of them and he can go to bat for Obama in ways that can help him.”

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