Geography enthusiasts who watched the big Obama-Biden rally in Springfield, Illinois, yesterday were probably a bit curious to hear the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, mentioned so often in relation to a man from Delaware. Together, Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden mentioned the town five times.
Joe Biden has roots in Scranton. He was born there in 1942. But Joe Biden hasn't lived in Scranton since 1953, 55 years ago. Joe Biden lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and has represented his home state in the Senate for 35 years. He grew up there, went to school there, raised his family there, and has become a fixture there in Wilmington-two and a half hours, 142 miles from Scranton.
So why is the Obama campaign trying to pass off a man from Wilmington, Delaware, as a Scrantonian? The answer may be Hillary Clinton.
Back in the Democratic primaries, Obama had a six-week layoff between the Texas and Ohio primaries and the Pennsylvania contest. He had six weeks to make the case to Pennsylvania Democrats that he was the best candidate for the nomination. Prior to losing Ohio and Texas, Obama had won eleven contests in a row and had Sen. Clinton reeling. But Clinton was able to resurrect her campaign in the working class and Midwestern towns of Ohio and Texas and looked to continue the comeback in Pennsylvania.
In the intervening six weeks, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright story broke which Obama addressed in his now famous speech on race relations. That address was delivered in Philadelphia. A second major gaffe came to light before the primary when Obama was quoted as telling a San Francisco fund-raiser audience that small-town people were "bitter" and "cling to "religion and guns and antipathy to people who aren't like them."
Obama lost Pennsylvania by 10 points on April 22nd. But more revealing was the way he lost. In every rural county in the state, Clinton bested Obama by at least 60-40. He lost whites in every age category, he lost churchgoers of every denomination and frequency of attendance, he lost every age group over 40, and he lost Catholics by as much as 50 points. The trend begun in Ohio and Texas carried through Pennsylvania to West Virginia and Kentucky. Obama was and remains very weak with working class whites.
That weakness is why the Obama campaign literally-to borrow a favorite Bidenism-tried to change the geographic map in its rollout of Joe Biden. The emphasis on Biden's Scranton birth, rather than his Wilmington life, are meant to give Biden the working-class street cred he will need to help Obama hold Pennsylvania. Obama performed very poorly in the Pennsylvania primary among voters that Democrats need to win in November. Joe Biden needs to win them back.
But as with many things in the Obama campaign, the campaign got it all wrong. Biden is the wrong messenger to send to the union halls of Scranton, Akron, Wheeling, and Flint. There is another prominent Democrat who hails from Scranton. One who has the qualities and connections with working-class whites and high school educated blue collar workers. One who has demonstrated an ability to draw those voters in large numbers, even after the ultimate result of the primaries was all but assured. That Democrat is Hillary Clinton. But Obama didn't, couldn't choose her for his running mate. That would have been too big an admission that he has no earthly idea how to connect with the lunch pail crowd. Better to try and redraw the map.
The Obama campaign is worried about Pennsylvania. The state went for Gore in 2000 by four points, and for Kerry in 2004 by 2.5. The Real Clear Politics average shows Obama leading by just under six points. But the last three polls put the race in the state under 5 points with the most recent showing a three point Obama lead. Obama is playing defense in Pennsylvania by picking Biden and trying to play him as a native.