Obama Cites Need 'To Work Harder' for Blue-Collar Votes
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) acknowledged today that he must work harder to win the support of working-class voters who backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in droves in last week's Pennsylvania primary.
"I am less familiar with some of these blue-collar voters than [Clinton]. ... They are less familiar with me than they are with her, and so we probably have to work a little bit harder," Obama said on "Fox News Sunday."
He added, "I've got to be more present. I've got to be knocking on more doors. I've got to be hitting more events. We've got to work harder."
Howard Wolfson, a top aide to Clinton, said now that Obama has lost working-class voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio, "I think Democrats do have questions about whether or not he is going to be able to reach out and successfully win over the kind of blue-collar voters that Democrats need to win in order to take the White House back in November."
He said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that Clinton is "somebody who can appeal to working people, people who have real concerns about this economy. She won overwhelmingly with those voters who were concerned about the economy."
According to exit polls, Clinton beat Obama nearly 3 to 1 among union households and among white Catholics, Fox host Chris Wallace told Obama.
But Obama expressed confidence that working-class voters would "vote for me" in a general election. He said his defeat among these voters "shouldn't come as a huge surprise."
Obama said that, despite his difficulty in attracting these voters in recent contests, by no means has he been incapable of impressing them.
"We have done well among every group because people are less interested in dividing the country along racial lines or regional lines," he said, adding: "It's not like I've been winning in states that only have either black voters or Chablis-drinking, you know, limousine liberals,"pointing to his wins in Idaho and Colorado.
Obama expressed confidence the "the Democratic Party will come together" after the primary concludes. Wolfson agreed, saying the Clinton campaign is "absolutely committed to coming together at the conclusion of this process, coming behind whoever the nominee is, and enthusiastically supporting that person."
Obama acknowledged that some voters were "legitimately offended by some of the comments" made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, about the country. "The fact he's my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue," Obama said.
But Obama said he goes "to church not to worship the pastor, [but] to worship God. And that ministry, the church family that's been built there, does outstanding work, has been, I think, applauded for its outreach to the poor."
Obama was also asked about his association with William Ayers, a former member of the violent Weather Underground group. Obama has served with Ayers on the board of a charity and has been friendly with him, and Clinton and McCain both have raised questions about the connection.
"Mr. Ayers is a 60-plus-year-old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was 6 or 7 years old," Obama said. "By the time I met him, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois. We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education."
In the last Democratic debate, Obama responded to a question about Ayers by saying he is also friendly with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), "who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions. Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements?"
Asked if he sees a moral equivalency between Ayers's participation in a violent domestic group and what Coburn said, Obama said, "Of course not." He said he has called Coburn to make clear he was not doing that. "All I was saying was ... the fact that I know somebody, worked with them, have interactions with them, doesn't mean that I'm endorsing what they say," Obama said.
If elected president, Obama said, he would instruct Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq who was recently promoted to lead Central Command, to come up with suggestions for "how best" to create a timetable to leave Iraq. Petraeus has warned against a premature reduction in forces.
" 'I want you to tell me how best to execute this new assignment, and I am happy to listen to the tactical considerations and any ideas you have,' " Obama said he would tell Petraeus. " 'But what I will not do is to continue to let the Iraqi government off the hook and allow them to put our foreign policy on ice while they dither about making decisions about how they're going to cooperate with each other.' "
Obama praised Petraeus as having "done a good tactical job in Iraq" overseeing the reduction in violence.
Pressed to cite any issues where he has crossed party lines to support Republican proposals, Obama responded by saying he sees a lot of merit in Republican approaches to regulation and some issues of education.
"Back in the '60s and '70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control, we're going to tell businesses exactly how to do things," Obama said. "The Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came up with the notion that" the markets could come up with better solutions than "dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by."
He also said the country should experiment with charter schools and different ways of compensating teachers, including merit pay, though not solely based on standardized tests.
He noted that he voted for a tort reform measure opposed by trial lawyers and was "attacked pretty hard from the left" when he supported his Democratic colleagues who voted to confirm John Roberts for the Supreme Court, although he voted against Roberts himself.
Dean: Losing Democrat Must Bring the Party Together
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean put the onus of reuniting the party on the loser in the nomination process, and in the process lashed out sharply at the Republicans for being a divisive party.
The GOP has "scapegoated different minority groups for a long time" - first African Americans, then gay Americans, and now immigrants, Dean said.
"We don't do that in this party," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We happen to have an African American candidate and a woman candidate. And clearly those groups of folks who have historically been disenfranchised in our political process have their favorites because there is an emotional pull towards those candidacies. At the end of the day we have to bring that together."
He added, "The most important [person] to bring those folks together is the person who doesn't win."
Dean said he hopes the Democratic nomination is settled by the end of June, urging so-called superdelegates to continue to make up their minds and publicly align themselves over the next few weeks.
He said he thinks superdelegates will rally around the candidate who they believe is most likely to beat McCain. But he rejected the notion that superdelegates - party office holders and others-- voting their conscience is in some way undemocratic, even if they go against the delegates selected by the voting in caucuses and primaries.
The superdelegates are "elected by the same people who go to the conventions and vote in primaries," Dean said.
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