- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

YORK, Pa. | Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama wooed rural and small-town voters Thursday in this Republican bastion of a town that his party usually writes off, saying the state and its blue-collar workers are the lynchpin of his electoral strategy.

“If you vote for me, I think we will win Pennsylvania. If we win Pennsylvania, we’ll win the election,” he told workers after touring Voit Siemens Hydro Power Generation plant, which manufactures turbine equipment for hydroelectric dams and employs more than 500 people.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, is targeting rural voters in swing states such as Pennsylvania with a populist message, offering relief from pocketbook worries while accusing Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of complacency about the country’s hard times.

The strategy is key to winning Pennsylvania and its prize of 21 electoral votes.

The state has not voted Republican in a presidential election since backing George H.W. Bush over Michael Dukakis in 1988. But Democrat John Kerry carried it by a thin 2.5 percent margin in 2004, and Mr. McCain is campaigning aggressively in the Keystone State.

With seven visits to Pennsylvania so far during the campaign, Mr. McCain signaled he is determined to put the state in play this year.

Mr. Obama struggled to attract the critical working-class vote in the state primary, as his campaign was hobbled by reports that at a private fundraising event in San Francisco he complained the state’s small-town voters were not supporting him because they are “bitter” and “cling to guns and religion.”

He lost the primary by a nine-point margin to rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, though Mr. Obama fared better than the more than 10-point deficit predicted by some opinion polls.

At a campaign stop in York last month, Mr. McCain made sure to remind voters of the “bitter” gaff. The Arizona senator also echoed Mrs. Clinton’s appeal as a champion of gun rights, as being the “underdog” in the race and as a foil to Mr. Obama’s lack of experience for the job of commander in chief.

Sean Smith, spokesman for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania, said the populist message will trump Republican attempts to revive controversies from the primary race.

“The Republicans are very good at spinning narratives, but Barack Obama is the one who understands middle-class families and John McCain doesn’t,” Mr. Smith said. “The fact that we are here [in York] speaks volumes about the voters who are in play this year.”

Mr. Obama told the workers in York that Republicans at the party convention, where Mr. McCain formally accepted the presidential nomination Thursday night, spent the last two days talking almost exclusively about Mr. McCain’s war-hero biography and Mr. Obama’s purported shortcomings.

“What you’re not hearing a lot about is you,” Mr. Obama said. “We haven’t heard a word about how we are going to deal with any aspect of the economy that is affecting you and your pocketbook day to day.”

He promised to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, fix the health care system, improve schools and access to higher education, and invest $15 billion a year in renewable energy. He said Republicans are not offering any plan.

“If I win the election, then I am looking forward to working with you guys for many years to come to try to continue to create more and more opportunities here in York and all across Pennsylvania,” Mr. Obama said.

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