Samantha Hayes, Washington, D.C.
April 14, 2008
Senator Barack Obama's oratory skills have been so highly praised this campaign, it seems almost surprising to some that his silver tongue could fail him. His soaring rhetoric and ability to captivate large and small crowds has certainly been a frustration for his Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, who has called his campaign "just words."
A few weeks ago, Obama looked to be in political trouble for words his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has used in his sermons. But Obama's eloquent response to that crisis helped him withstand the negative episode and the recent CNN compilation of Pennsylvania polls has shown the Illinois Senator closing what was once a double digit gap with Clinton in that state. At the end of last week, four percentage points separated the two. Obama has slipped slightly, according to the latest polling today, now trailing Clinton by six points.
On Friday Obama was forced to immediately try to explain comments he made at a recent private fundraiser in San Francisco. Talking about the economic woes in small towns and the frustration of voters there over broken government promises, Obama said, "its 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."
The response from his rivals was quick, and both Clinton and Senator John McCain have called his comments "elitist" and Obama "out of touch" with small town America.
At a campaign stop in Pittsburgh today Obama acknowledged the flap again saying that "it may be that I chose my words badly, it's not the first time, it won't be the last. But when I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington, saying I'm out of touch, its time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality."
But for Obama, the reality may be a loss of support in Pennsylvania, just as it was beginning to look like he was closing the gap. We'll see how that plays out in the week leading up to next Tuesday's primary.