Barack Obama will leave Pennsylvania tomorrow in search of some small-town cred.
And he should not have to search for it alone.
The senator from Illinois could really use an endorsement from John Edwards, the Democratic contender who put small towns on the map–and carried a lot of them in Iowa and other states before folding a run for the Democratic presidential nomination that never got a break from the media or the party elites.
But, even if the former senator from North Carolina is playing Hamlet, Edwards-backer John Mellencamp has come through for Obama.
The Illinoisan is to be joined by the Indiana-rooted singer in Evansville, Indiana, on Tuesday night–as the results of the Pennsylvania primary are tabulated–for a rally that will acknowledge the Obama campaign’s awareness that it must put some serious effort into reconnecting with the rural and small-town voters who were once important players in the remarkable coalition that powered the senator’s surge.
For all the hopeful talk about how Obama has been forgiven for what sounded like an elitist jab at outstate voters, the fact is that the candidate and his aides know Obama hurt himself with his early-April remarks to a crowd of wealthy donors in San Francisco.
Yes, of course, Obama was trying to make an important–and valid–point when he told the Californians: “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them… and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
But Obama chose the wrong place and the wrong language to deliver the message–as the senator admitted publicly and bemoaned privately.
You don’t go to San Francisco and talk about how folks in small towns are “bitter” characters who “cling” to guns and religion.
And you sure as hell don’t perpetuate the elite fantasy that opposition to free-trade pacts should be seen “as a way to explain their frustrations.”
People — in small towns and big cities — who are critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement and permanent normalization of trade relations with China are not playing out some sort of “antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” They are reacting to the experience of seeing their jobs and their prospects disappear as factories close and service jobs are outsourced.