'Bitter' Pill Hard to Swallow in Pennsylvania Town

Located on the Susquehanna River between Lancaster and York, Columbia is the kind of small Pennsylvania town that factories left long ago, never to be replaced.

It is perhaps the kind of "small town" Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama was talking about last week when he made the assessment of small town American voters as "bitter" and ignited 2008's latest political wildfire.

"You got into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said in an address to fundraisers in San Francisco last week. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then 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."

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Columbia resident Mary Louise Murry describes her town as once "thriving" and says despite economic hard times she's not bitter.

Peggy Wolpart, another lifelong local, agrees. She says she's still there despite the downturn because "we just love it.

Neither, however, take Obama's comments to heart.

"He didn't meant to sound bad about small towns," Wolpart says. "He just meant that small towns needed some help."

Still, a sense of local pride is why Barry "Scoop" Ford, editor of the weekly Columbia Ledger, says many in the town resent Obama's description.

"I think it sounded like he was up here and everybody else -- the working class, the lower class people -- were down here," Ford says.

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Across the street from the newspaper's offices at Hinckles Pharmacy and Restaurant, Ford's sentiment resonated.

"If faith is so important to him, why is it negative for small-town Americans or small-town Pennsylvanians to cling to their religion?" voter Ed Yates asked of Obama.

Arlina Yates says she's not sure "whether what he said in San Francisco is really what he feels or if its his explanation of what he said in San Francisco is really how he feels."

Diner John Lewis Sr. was "thinking about" voting for Obama but says "now I'll go with Hillary Clinton."

Hinckles' waitress Donna Berthizel, however, says she doesn't buy it, that Obama's words are being twisted by the Clinton campaign.

"I think her campaign will take anything that he says out of context and put their own malicious spin on it," Bernthizel says.

But with a week left in a fierce race to the Democratic nomination via the Pennsylvania primary, spin and spin control are the name of the game.

Obama's rivals pounced over the weekend: Republican rival John McCain's camp charged the Illinois senator with "elitism" while Clinton called him a candidate who "looks down" on small-town voters.

In Indiana, former president Bill Clinton fought Monday to keep "bitter" alive, campaigning with the state's former first lady citing small town voters he's met since Obama made the remarks who insist they're not bitter and who want "to turn the country around."

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