Robert Novak

Johnstown typifies problems Obama faces in Pennsylvania. Rep. John Murtha, whose steady flow of federal pork into the city has made him a Johnstown hero, strongly supports Clinton. So do most of the other local Democratic worthies, who showed up at the opening of Clinton headquarters a few hours before the Obama event. The black population of Johnstown is around 3 percent, though probably one in six at the town meeting was African-American. The only local speaker was Victoria King, a black volunteer.

The blacks at Obama's Johnstown gathering actually exceeded in number those who attended Clinton's events last week in North Carolina, where half the state's 2.5 million registered Democrats are African-American. For Clinton's first visit to the state as a presidential candidate, her endorsers appearing at events around the state were at the county commissioner level.

In backing away from attacks on Obama, Clinton did not even recognize her opponent's existence (though her aides were administering the usual battering of Obama in a media conference call while she was taking the high road Thursday in a town meeting at Fayetteville, N.C.). Talking to reporters after the Johnstown event, Obama said it was advisable for both candidates "to show some restraint" and added that he was "not blameless." However, while answering a voter's question Saturday, Obama could not resist saying that "the Clintons pushed NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement)," which both candidates have assailed.

That was hardly the red meat the supporters of each candidate desired when they entered stuffy high school gyms and sat for long hours waiting for their candidate. Instead, they endured wonkish declarations, nearly identical from Obama and Clinton, on corporate tax policy, college tuition, alternative energy sources and other items on the liberal laundry list. Obama thinks he has the nomination won, and Clinton is not desperate enough to launch a suicidal last attack.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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