Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama's disconnect with rural and blue-collar voters

problem with rural and blue-collar voters is pinpointed in this Washington Post piece on his 2004 Democratic primary and general election races for U.S. senator. Obama, of course, won both but he did abysmally in southern Illinois, which abounds in rural and blue-collar voters. But the results of the 2004 primary may not be a totally accurate guide to what will happen in the November presidential election. As this Almanac of American Politics story (updated Dec. 5, 2007) points out, Obama's two major primary opponents got off to strong early campaign starts. Still, while Obama is mounting a well-financed 50-state campaign, money and organization may not be enough to capture the respectable chunks of rural and blue-collar voters he needs to win the 270 Electoral Votes that will put him in the White House. Sure, he'll win Illinois easily even if he loses downstate, but to take the must-win states of Ohio and Pennsylvania he has to do better with blue-collar voters than he did against Hillary Clinton, who won both states handily in their spring party primaries.

Obama is in danger of losing Ohio, if not Pennsylvania with his present messages. To improve his chances, he's got to connect with the economically cheated people who, so far, have been the losers in globalization. Even when America's economy was supposedly humming, Ohio was a net loser of jobs -- has been since the 1970s. A new Brookings Institution report on America's older industrial cities -- where blue-collar jobs are concentrated -- identifies six states with a total of 35 struggling cities. Two of those states -- Ohio and Pennsylvania -- Obama must win. If he wins Pennsylvania -- where his chances are better -- and loses Ohio, then he has to capture Michigan -- another of the six states with failing cities in the Brookings report. Polls show McCain leading in Michigan.

Calling for job-training programs and Nafta tweaks is fine, but that's not enough for Obama. What about workers who have jobs, but make less than the $32,140 median income? FICA payroll taxes lop off an average of $3,800 of their salaries. The government grabs that amount from each worker regardless of how little he or she pays in income taxes.

There's a way to take this burden off the back of workers making less than $32,140 -- spelled out in this earlier post. Obama's economic plan doesn't do enough for those workers. If Obama doesn't show how he'd do more, he may lose Ohio. And even Pennsylvania. If he doesn't win both, he remains the junior senator from Illinois, with less seniority than the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton.

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