Barack Obama will on Saturday embark on a whistle-stop train tour of Pennsylvania three days before the state holds a critical Democratic primary in a move redolent of Harry S. Truman’s successful 1948 campaign.
By Edward Luce in Philadelphia
Mr Obama, who remains behind Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by between 1 and 20 percentage points among wildly gyrating poll numbers, will stop at several towns between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the state capital, and “slow-roll” through many more.
The tour will take the Obama campaign through some of the most economically blighted portions of the “Keystone State”, which has lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs since 2000, and is aimed at reaching as many of the state’s Democratic voters as possible in the shortest time.
Clinton and McCain Versus Obama
Mr Obama, who has in the past few days come under the harshest scrutiny so far from the Clinton campaign, on Friday shifted his attack to John McCain, the Republican nominee, who on Thursday said the US economy had made “great progress” under George W. Bush.
Both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton have portrayed Mr McCain, who has admitted to a weak grasp of economics, as offering a third Bush term. But Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain have also teamed up recently to attack Mr Obama as “elitist” for remarks at a fundraiser in San Francisco recently in which he depicted the faith and cultural habits of Pennsylvania’s blue collar workers as a form of escapism from their economic woes.
Mr Obama, who has since claimed that he “mangled” his words about small-town Americans, on Friday focused almost entirely on the economy and on his potential Republican opponent.
“John McCain says that the economy has made great progress under George Bush,” he told a crowd in Erie. “Here is what happened since Bush took office: we went through the first period of sustained economic expansion since World War II in which ordinary people’s incomes actually dropped. Manufacturing jobs are their lowest in a generation, another 11m people have lost healthcare insurance and 20,000 people are foreclosed on their homes every week.
“Only somebody who has spent two decades in Washington could make a comment as disconnected as that. That is why we have to fix our broken system in Washington.”
Mr Obama faces an uphill task winning over Pennsylvania’s blue-collar workers given Mrs Clinton’s strength among white, male union members in previous primary elections – most particularly in Ohio, where she defeated Mr Obama by almost 10 percentage points in the swing state’s nominating contest early last month. But Mr Obama, who remains almost 800,000 votes ahead of Mrs Clinton in the overall popular vote, can draw upon the large concentration of African-American and upscale white voters in and around Philadelphia – the state’s most heavily populated area.
Obama stands to benefit from Dean’s call
The junior senator from Illinois might also benefit from the growing impatience among senior Democratic figures for the primary contest to be settled before it results in a potential train wreck at the party’s convention in Denver in late August. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, on Friday asked wavering “superdelegates”, who will ultimately settled the nomination, to make up their minds more quickly. About 300 of the 795 unelected superdelegates have yet to endorse either Mr Obama or Mrs Clinton.
Many say they are waiting to see the outcome of the Pennsylvania primary. Others will wait until May 6, when the states of Indiana and North Carolina go to the polls. Mr Obama is expected to win North Carolina. Indiana is considered too close to call.
“This could all boil down to Indiana,” says Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from the state and member of the 9/11 Commission, who has endorsed Mr Obama. “I can tell you the people of my state are very excited about the upcoming election.”
On Friday Mr Dean said he was not prepared to wait until the end of the primary calendar on June 3 before hearing from the remaining superdelegates. He said the delay was starting to damage the party. “I need them to say who they’re for, starting now,” he told CNN. “We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time.”
One fear that might be holding back the remaining superdelegates is Mr Obama’s ability to “take a punch” – in the words of one uncommitted senior official. Mrs Clinton has hammered away at perceived vulnerabilities in Mr Obama’s biography that some Democrats fear could be used by Republicans to devastating effect in November. “If I have one doubt about him it is whether he is tough enough to withstand what they would throw at him,” said the official.