Thursday, July 31, 2008

McCain targets Obama, with an eye to voters in small towns; Obama targets rural Missouri

"Sen. Barack Obama campaigned through the conservative heart of rural Missouri on Wednesday, determined to prove that a Democrat can capture this bellwether state by winning over voters in its far-flung small towns as well as in its urban centers," report Peter Slevin and Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post. Obama traveled with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, trying to replicate the formula that elected her in 2006.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain started a television commercial that aides told CNN was aimed at "small town" voters, depicting Obama as a vapid celebrity "along the lines of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton," Jim Rutenberg writes for The New York Times. It is part of "a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency." (Read more) The effort appears aimed at changing opinions of voters who don't have a firm opinion of Obama, but polls show overall opinions of McCain are less firm than those about Obama.

Among self-defined "small town" voters in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released last week, McCain led 46 percent to 44 percent, well within the error margin for that subsample, which made up a fourth of the overall survey. More importantly, that group has a high share of "persuadable" voters, those whose views of either candidate are not strongly held, and that is especially true of the Arizona senator; 25 percent said their view of him was neutral, while only 15 percent said that of Obama. A majority had mild opinions about McCain; 26 percent said their view of him was somewhat positive, and 18 percent said their view was somewhat negative. He was viewed very positively by 16 percent and very negatively by 13 percent. Among all voters, the numbers were similar.

Opinions of Obama were more polarized; 24 percent of self-defined small-town voters said their view of the Illinois senator was very positive, and 25 percent were very negative. His other numbers were somewhat positive, 21 percent; neutral, 15 percent; and somewhat negative, 14 percent. For other small-town and rural results from the poll, go here. While opinion about McCain may be milder, the election is essentially about Obama. As Bob Drogin and Peter Nicholas note in the Los Angeles Times, the poll showed that "51 percent of people said they were focusing more on what kind of president Obama would be than McCain; 27 percent said they were focusing more on McCain." (Read more)

In rural Missouri, Obama has 24 offices and 150 paid staff members, triple the number 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry fielded, and "a significant number of his Missouri staffers have local roots," the Post reports. "Nearly 100 volunteers, most from Missouri, just finished a six-week commitment to work 30 hours a week. Many worked more. Volunteers and staffers have canvassed in rural areas where no presidential candidate has operated before." (Read more)

Fuel prices are a big issue in rural America, and in The Springfield News-Leader, Chad Livengood focused on Obama's opposition to oil driling offshore and in Alaska. "Instead, Obama says the country needs a national energy independence initiative similar to the 1940s Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb and the 1960s Apollo mission to get a man on the moon. Sen. John McCain ... has been pushing the Manhattan Project concept as well, but his plan entails expanding domestic energy exploration in western states, as well as coastal shores. Obama said it would take at least 10 years to get new American oil on the market -- an argument Democrats made against drilling in Alaska 10 years ago." (Read more) In the Rolla Daily News, Alan Lewis Gerstenecker took a more general approach, but in the Lake Sun Leader of Camdenton, Joyce Miller called Obama a "46-year-old black man from Illinois whom many said didn’t have a chance" and described his surprise stop at a restaurant in Lebanon, Mo. (Read more)

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