One day last week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, came to the Mahoning Valley to campaign on behalf of his party's presidential nominee, Barack Obama. After a couple of appearances, Brown stopped in at a coffee shop in Boardman to quench his thirst.
The veteran Cleveland politican was not bashful in offering his opinion on what's going to happen Nov. 4: Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, is going to win Ohio, and has the momentum to carry him to victory nationally. The U.S. and global economic collapse has turned the tide against Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a senator from Arizona, and the undecideds and independents are breaking Obama's way, Brown believes.
It was a pleasant conservation with a knowledgeable politican, but when he was ready to leave the coffee shop, two mature, white female suburban residents sitting at the next table introduced themselves to him.
Both women said they were early supporters of Obama's, and then Brown heard this from one of them, "but he's a tough sell here."
The Ohio senator seemed genuinely surprised, given that the presidential race is in its final stage.
But for individuals like the two women who have been paying attention to politics in the Mahoning Valley for a period of time, it is not surprising. And it goes beyond this predominantly Democratic region's strong support for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in the March primary.
Obama's race — a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — remains a major issue for many Valley voters.
It was suggested to Brown by this writer that had Clinton been the nominee, she would be enjoying a huge lead in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the race in Ohio would not be a toss up, as it is today.
Can Obama become an "easy sell" — as opposed to a "hard sell" — in this important Democratic region in the nine days that remain?
A cynic might suggest flooding the two counties with white Obama campaign workers and sending all the black workers to other parts of the country where color is not such a big issue.
A more reasonable approach may be to focus on Obama's family history, especially the fact that he was raised by two white grandparents in Hawaii who taught him the values that have stood him in good stead all his life.