Armed with Hillary Clinton's endorsement, this week began trying to make inroads with her supporters, and also to start making his general election case on the economy. His chances of success in both cases are linked. Clinton's backers in the primaries were especially concerned about the economy and affected by the downturn, personally.
Those "pocketbook" assessments look like the front line in his efforts -- in later contests, the more affected by the economy Democrats said they were, the worse Obama did. In the South Dakota contest with Clinton, Obama took half of those who reported they hadn't felt much personal impact from an economic slowdown. He took fewer (47 percent) of those reporting that they'd been "somewhat" affected by economic troubles and did worst, with 41 percent to Clinton's 58 percent, with those saying troubles were hitting their own family "a great deal." He lost the state, in part, because voters feeling affected outnumbered unaffected voters by five to one. Still, even as he won easily in Montana the same day, this declining pattern held. Sixty-two percent of those not much affected by the economy backed him; 57 percent of those "somewhat" hurt did; he got 54 percent of those affected "a great deal."
With white voters in Indiana - a state he might try to contest this fall - the relationship between pocketbook assessments and Obama's support was large. While he won a majority of those (few) saying the recession hadn't hit home for them, he took only about a third of those deeply affected. In North Carolina - of the latter primary states, perhaps the one most likely to see strong Obama targeting this fall - it was this way, too: 47 percent of whites who were "not much" affected backed him, but 39 percent of those "somewhat" affected did and 29 percent of those affected "a great deal."
Earlier in the primary season in Pennsylvania - certainly critical to the fall campaign - the exit polls picked up a lack of confidence that Obama could turn the economy around. Clinton's Pennsylvania voters who called the economy their top issue (and that was most of them) also said they'd be unsatisfied with Obama as the Democratic nominee, by a large 64 percent-34 percent margin, which was a slightly higher rate than Clinton voters, overall, said that. Moreover, a 56 percent majority of those economically-focused Clintonites said they did not think Obama would improve the nation's economy. Of the two Democrats, they said, only Clinton would. In Ohio, Clinton backers with the economy foremost in mind said they'd be unsatisfied with an Obama nomination by 58 percent to 41 percent.
This connection between economic concerns and dissatisfaction with Obama showed up in later primaries, too, in Indiana, and again in South Dakota. Neither of those might go Democratic in November, but it does suggest Obama hadn't been making big gains these kinds of voters even as he was clinching the nomination.
These patterns are part of - and perhaps help explain -the much-discussed trouble Obama had in winning the working-class demographic from Clinton, and could also hold the key to his luring them back. If Americans' outlook for the nation's economy is any guide - 69 percent in the latest national CBS News poll say it is getting worse - even more might report economic problems are hitting home. So, if he's hoping to reconcile with Democrats feeling economic pain, it looks like Obama will need to use both the Clinton endorsement, and perhaps also a borrowed page from the (first edition) Clinton playbook -- and convince them that he feels it.
By Anthony Salvanto