Philadelphia: Barack Obama braced for another round of attacks from Democratic foe Hillary Clinton, after his comments on “bitter” working class voters sparked a political firestorm.
Clinton hoped to use the row to enlist blue collar support and as a springboard to catch Obama in the Democratic race, in the tense run-up to next week’s Pennsylvania primary.
She turned up the heat on her rival on Monday, debuting a new advertisement in Pennsylvania, featuring voters taking offense to his remark that some economically bereft Americans sought refuge in God and guns.
But Obama hit back, telling Democrats at a dinner in Philadelphia: “it’s not me who’s out of touch. I know exactly what folks are going through,” he said, expressing sympathy with voters who lacked jobs and healthcare.
Obama faces attack from Clinton and Republican nominee McCain
Clinton, who has styled herself as a champion of the working class, earlier launched a lacerating attack on Obama, accusing him of condescending to a vast swathe of Americans.
“I believe that people don’t cling to religion, they value their faith. You don’t cling to guns, you enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting,” Clinton said in Pittsburgh, a blue collar town feeling the economic pinch.
“I don’t think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.”
Obama faced a simultaneous attack from the right, as Republican nominee John McCain emulated Clinton’s weekend comment that Obama’s remarks were elitist and offensive.
“I think those comments are elitist,” McCain said. “That’s a fundamental contradiction of what I think America is all about,” he said, arguing that such small town Americans had sent their children off to war in the U.S armed forces for generations.
The Clinton campaign hopes Obama’s remarks represent a lifeline for her White House hopes, as she battles to overhaul his lead in the nomination race.
The dispute plays into Clinton’s contention that Obama cannot attract the blue-collar, socially conservative voters Democrats need in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, to win the general election.
Her campaign also pushed the idea that Republicans would attack Obama as an out of touch, elitist liberal lacking the common touch, in much the same way they attacked the last two Democratic nominees, Al Gore and John Kerry.
Campaigning in Pennsylvania and Indiana at the weekend, rural areas where hunting is popular, Clinton spoke about how her father took her out and taught her to shoot when she was a young girl.
Obama sarcastically hit back that she was behaving like legendary U.S sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The furore erupted after Obama said at a fundraiser in liberal California last week that some voters were embittered by years of economic decline and cast their votes on social issues instead of economic ones.
“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,” he said, according to a transcript published by Huffingtonpost.com.
Recent poll shows drop in Clinton’s popularity in Pennsylvania
Clinton has long led in the polls in Pennsylvania, largely due to support from working class voters and union members, but a respected poll by Quinnipiac University last week had her lead down to six points.
Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates, total nominating contests won and the popular vote going into the final stretch of the race.
But neither candidate can now reach the 2,025 pledged delegates needed to win the nomination, so the outcome hinges on the votes of nearly 800 party officials or “superdelegates” who can vote however they like at the Democratic convention in August.