Candidates battle for working-class whites
DES MOINES, Iowa
President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are working feverishly for an increasingly smaller but crucial slice of the electorate — white, working-class voters.
These clock-punching voters — from Iowa’s tiny manufacturing cities to Virginia coal country to pockets of Ohio reliant on the auto industry — are considered the potential tipping point in battleground states that will decide the winner Nov. 6. These voters also are critical to turning less- competitive states such as Michigan into swing states in the final stretch.
Romney is trying to expand what polls show is an advantage for the Republican while Obama hopes to narrow the gap. Both candidates are trying to pit these voters against their opponent by stoking a sense of economic and social unfairness and also by calling on surrogates with stronger ties to these voters. It’s why Romney has seized on Obama’s decision to give states greater flexibility on welfare work requirements and why Obama turned to former President Bill Clinton, long popular with working-class voters, to make the case for his second-term bid.
“In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class,” Romney said in accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
Obama counters that Romney’s opposition to a federal bailout of U.S. automakers hurts his chances with working-class whites.
These voters are a hodge-podge of union households and gun-rights advocates, often from rural areas and smaller cities. They are found in a handful of competitive states where neither candidate has an appreciable advantage, including northern Florida and northwest and southeast Ohio. They also are found in key counties in states that have voted Democratic in presidential elections since the 1980s but are seen as more competitive this year. Those include areas outside Madison and Milwaukee in southern Wisconsin, mixed-income suburbs outside Detroit and rural parts of western Pennsylvania.
Neither Romney nor Obama has a natural connection with them.
Both are Harvard- educated and wealthy. But Obama, an African- American raised politically in Chicago’s Democratic network, has struggled with these voters.
Romney, the son of a former governor and car-company president, made a fortune as a private-equity firm executive before serving a term as Massachusetts governor.