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Can Obama Win White Voters?

A victory in Oregon, yes, but presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama also got a thrashing in Kentucky. Although both states are populated predominantly by white voters, together they prove there are strikingly different shades of white. Oregonians are progressive to a fare-thee-well (I know, I spent two years at Reed College in Portland, Ore., in the 1970s.) Kentucky voters are less affluent, less well educated, and considerably more conservative.

The Kentucky results and the state's impact on the Obama campaign were summed up most succinctly by this L.A. Times blog entry:

Barack Obama, assuming that two consecutive primary thrashings don't cause the pause among Democratic superdelegates Hillary Clinton is hoping for, will get within shouting distance of Kentucky later this year as the party's presidential nominee. The key swing states of Ohio and Missouri border it. So do Virginia and Indiana, which Obama might be able to put in play.

But actually setting foot inside Kentucky would seem a fairly pointless gesture by Obama, unless he's got Clinton in tow as his vice presidential pick. Not only did she follow up her rout of Obama in last Tuesday's primary in nearby West Virginia with an overwhelming win in the Bluegrass State, but exit poll data showed her voters feel none too kindly toward him.

Those figures found that only a third of Clinton supporters would vote for Obama in November, while about 40 percent would cast their ballot for Republican John McCain and the rest--roughly a quarter--would stay home.

Liberal Democrats who refuse to believe the party could self-destruct by placing Obama at the top of the ticket are hoping Obama's upcoming push on religion will draw in wayward southern conservative Democrats.

Sen. Barack Obama plans to roll out a new nationwide faith effort to make it clear to voters that the presidential candidate is a Christian who reflects the values of the electorate.

Could it work? Hmm. From where I sit, not sure. If Obama starts emphasizing his love of God in an attempt to lure those same working-class voters he accused of being "bitter" and having to "cling" to religion, the tactic could just as easily ricochet. There's also a video on You Tube showing Senator Obama in the pulpit addressing an African-American congregation some years back. If this video gets a lot of play on national television, that probably would not help Senator Obama with white working-class voters.

It was produced by a local Chicago TV station right around the time Obama was considering his run for national office. The reporter makes the point when Obama speaks to white audiences, his intonations and accent differ markedly from when he speaks to African-American audiences. It's hard to imagine this video would endear him to the West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky voters who supported Clinton's campaign.

By Bonnie Erbe