In Pennsylvania, White Male Vote is the Key

Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2008

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In a way, Mr. Machi represents the holy grail of the final push for votes in Pennsylvania: white male Democrats. As a group, they are nearly evenly divided between Senator Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. And individually, white male Democrats express the most ambivalence about the two candidates.

A recent poll from Temple University in Philadelphia asked likely Democratic voters to rate the favorability of Clinton and Obama on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most favorable. The contest was closest among white men who gave Clinton an average of 6.4 and Obama 6.9. When only voters over 30 are considered, the numbers get even tighter: 6.5 for Clinton and 6.7 for Obama.

Pennsylvania’s white women, in contrast, clearly are more enthusiastic about Clinton. They give her an average favorability of 7.8, versus 5.9 for Obama.

So what’s up with the white guys?

“I’m more and more impressed as time goes on that this election is about which candidate you think is more like you,” says Michael Hagen, director of Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs.

That’s why, he adds, the candidates have spent so much time in the past six weeks aiming their messages at white men—not always successfully. Obama’s adventure in ten-pin bowling, scoring a 37 in seven frames, did not exactly impress, while images of Clinton knocking back liquor, and talking about how her dad taught her how to shoot at their Pennsylvania cottage, struck some voters as pandering.

In a state where many counties give schoolchildren a day off for the opening of deer-hunting season, gun rights are considered a nearly sacred matter. But Clinton’s record as a supporter of gun control didn’t exactly square with her attempts to come across as gun friendly.

It is Obama, though, who seriously risked alienating gun owners in the run up to Pennsylvania with his private comments at a San Francisco fundraiser, where he talked about “bitter” small-town voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

But for now, what has been dubbed “Bittergate” does not seem to have hurt Obama in Pennsylvania, at least in the Democratic primary. The average of the latest polls shows him trailing Clinton by about five percentage points, which is roughly where he has been since he began advertising heavily in the state.

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