The Washington Times - May 27, 2008, 04:46PM

Sen. Barack Obama had the luxury of time in Iowa, and went all over the state to meet every voter he possibly could. But as the primary season dragged on and he kept winning, both he and Sen. Hillary Clinton have been forced to campaign in larger settings, scrapping the kitchen table discussions for speeches in gymnasiums. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told me in an interview he thinks Obama can win his state - despite a 41-point defeat in the May 13 primary - if he just gets out on the trail to shake voters’ hands and listen to their concerns. Here’s some of the story:

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III says he is tired of the “stereotyping” of his state’s voters as uneducated, adding that Sen. Barack Obama can win the state in the fall if he takes the time to ask people for their support. “I get so sick and tired … when they talk about education or lack of education and try to say that was one of the reasons or excuses” that Mr. Obama resoundingly lost the state’s primary earlier this month, Mr. Manchin told The Washington Times. “They might not have all the diplomas hanging on the wall, but they have a Ph.D. in life.” Mr. Manchin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, remains neutral in the Democratic primary battle between Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. He told The Times that he wants to “break down all stereotypes” and prove to the nation that West Virginians are “hardworking, honest people.” He also scoffed at critics who say Mr. Obama’s race was a factor in his defeat, pointing to the state’s prominent Japanese automotive industry. “West Virginians accepted Japanese culture into their schools, communities, hearts and homes,” he said. The race factor is “so far off” from the truth about why Mrs. Clinton won the May 13 primary by an overwhelming 41 points, he said. Mr. Manchin said he thinks Mr. Obama should have spent more time in his state because West Virginians “are people that will shake your hand and read you like a book,” and they didn’t have the chance to do that with Democratic front-runner. “They need to be comfortable with you and look into your eyes,” he said.

Read my full story, which includes some Obama volunteers from West Virginia offering a candid assessment of their state’s voters, here. Former Congressman-turned-pundit Harold Ford of Tennessee pushed a similar message in a Newsweek piece titled “Go meet them senator.” Here’s the opener:

The night Barack Obama is expected to accept the Democratic nomination will be Aug. 28, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King had a dream, and Barack Obama is part of its fulfillment. We live in a more just and open country than we did 45 years ago, a country where an African-American may be elected president. That doesn’t mean the country is perfectly just, or that we live in a new, post-racial era. But concerns about race in this election are overstated. Do many rural or working-class people have questions about Obama? Sure. But these are less about race than about culture. Obama has not lived their lives. That’s OK. In the weeks and months ahead, he just needs to show that he respects them and understands the issues that matter to themthat he can make their lives better. Obama has run a first-rate primary campaign, energizing countless new voters. Now he’s got to get off the big stage more often and meet with people where they work, play and pray. That means getting out to schools and factories, coffee shops, fairgrounds and houses of worship. He needs to earn their trust.

Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter, The Washington Times