Obama's Big Disconnect

Salena Zito

4/27/2008 12:00:59 AM - Salena Zito

For Barack Obama, closing the deal with Democrat voters has become like herding cats: He just can’t get them all lined up and coordinated on his side.

This nation has a history of looking closely at its candidates and taking their measure before they vote for them. It is a process that Obama shuns and rival Hillary Clinton thrives on -- and therein lies the problem for Democrats.

Obama, who leads both in pledged delegates and in the popular vote, cannot close the gap with lunch-pail Democrats, older voters and (for lack of a better term) white people.

Consequently, Clinton has been able to widen Obama's weaknesses with each passing primary contest.

Yes, Obama won lunch-pail Democrat votes in caucuses, but remember: Caucus participants, for the most part, are party activists who cling to the farthest-left end of the platform; they are not Middle America.

So why the disconnect with the Democrats’ core constituency?

The appearance is that Obama does not understand them; they are outside the realm of his “change” message. His original “change” agenda did not force him to relate with Middle America in order to win.

Wisely, Hillary’s did. Remember her “Listening Tour”? Of course, no one at the time was paying attention to Clinton because no one did “it” better than Obama. Then came the setbacks to Obama’s inevitability -- the Rev. Wright caused people to pause, and the “bitter” comment caused them to look elsewhere.

Here is part of the problem: Obama thought he could win the nomination by being against the war and not being George Bush. He did not realize, nor did he foresee, today’s economic problems. Jobs, jobs and jobs are what voters want a candidate to talk about; they want reinforcement that jobs will be available, that those will pay a living wage and will not be outsourced to foreign soil. Those voters are looking for a fighter.

A direct correlation exists between Hillary's success and the increased economic uneasiness, because economic uneasiness is highest among white middle-class workers.

Voters also are finally realizing they really want to know what “change” is. Is it 73 cents more in your pocket, or does it have an economic-stability package attached to it?

Obama came out of Pennsylvania looking like an elitist who can't live up to his rhetoric of bringing people together; he never showed the compassion for policy solutions that Hillary demonstrated.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Western Pennsylvania superdelegate who has not committed to either candidate, says that’s a problem. “Obama needs to demonstrate that he can connect with blue-collar working-class people,” the Forest Hills Democrat said. “Up to this point, I don’t think he has shown that.”

As reported many times over, many Democrats, inside the Washington Beltway or in the Heartland, hope for an Obama-Clinton ticket. Brokering that deal may prove harder than herding cats; right now, ending the Cold War seemed a lot easier.

Yet to win in the fall, Obama needs Clinton more than Clinton needs him.

In the 1976 presidential campaign, Gerald Ford blamed Ronald Reagan for his loss to Jimmy Carter because Reagan did not campaign for Ford in Southern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Ford felt Reagan could have made the difference among what came to be known as Reagan Democrats, the same voters with whom Obama cannot connect.

Obama will need Clinton to do the same thing -- that is, if he ever herds the cats that he needs to close the deal and win the nomination.