Fighting for the White Male Voter

Clinton addressed white working-class voters in a speech about the economy.

March 24, 2008 -- While Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., may be fashion forward when it comes to his open collars, he's having a real problem with blue collars. They're a group his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., counts among her most loyal constituents.

Today in Philadelphia, Clinton addressed white working class families and put forward a four-part plan towards remedying the sub-prime mortgage crisis which includes a broader government role in buying out sub-prime mortgages and protecting homeowners.

Calling "confidence" the economy's "true currency," Clinton made the case that "we need a president who can restore our confidence, a president who is ready to confront complex economic problems with comprehensive solutions — working to prevent crises, rather than just reacting to them once it's too late," according to a speech transcript.

"We need a president who is ready on day one to be commander-in chief of our economy. If you give me the chance, I will be that president."

White working-class families impacted by the mortgage crisis are an area of real weakness for Obama.

"There just does seem to be a certain reluctance of these non-college educated white men to support Barack Obama," says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Many of Obama's white supporters are elites. More like the U2 that plays at his rallies than the Dolly Parton that plays at Clinton's.

Mellman continues, "What they really want is someone to deal with their economic concerns."

Living paycheck to paycheck, they're voters who are more focused on the economy, and Obama increasingly tries to appeal to them.

In his speech on race last week, Obama said "Most working- and middle-class white Americans worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor."

Though Obama's scrappier opponent may be a millionaire, Clinton plays up her working-class roots, referencing her grandfather, who she says was 11 years old when he went to work in the lace mills, while her allies like union president Tom Buffenbarger attack Obama and his supporters as elitists.

"I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak," Buffenbarger said at a February rally in Ohio, "This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter."

Still, it was comments by Bill Clinton that really riled the Obama campaign.

"It would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country," the former president said Friday.

Was Clinton launching a different kind of attack by praising the patriotism of his wife and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain but leaving out Obama? It didn't take long for the Obama camp to strike back.

An Obama campaign co-chair, retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, said he was "saddened to see a president employ these kids of tactics."

Obama's line of attack has been to focus on the Clintons' support of the NAFTA trade agreement, which many working-class voters blame for job losses in the Rust Belt. White House schedules released last week indicate that even if Sen. Clinton had personal reservations about that trade deal, she worked to get it passed.