Winning White Working Class a Hurdle for Obama

As Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) begins his national campaign for president, he faces difficulty in winning over a key voting bloc. Guest Host Audie Cornish speaks with Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, about how Obama can best appeal to white working class voters.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Now that he's clinched the Democratic nomination for president, Senator Barack Obama has begun his national campaign. One of Obama's challenges in the upcoming months will be gaining the support of white working class workers. Now, Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael Coleman has already done that.

He's the African-American mayor of a majority white city. We reached him in New Orleans where he's participating in the National Conference of Black Mayors. Mayor Coleman, welcome to the show.

Mayor MICHAEL COLEMAN (Columbus, Ohio): Thank you. Good to be here.

CORNISH: What have the feelings been there at the conference with all of this black leadership gathered in one place? What was the mood and what are people saying about Senator Obama clinching the nomination?

Mr. COLEMAN: I think everybody here is inspired but everybody also believes, you know, it's been a long way, it's been a long time trying to get to this point where an African-American could run for president of the United States. You know, at one time - see, the Black Mayors Conference was organized in the 1970s when it then was unheard of to have black mayors. And since then black mayors have gone on to become other things.

CORNISH: Turning to Senator Obama, he's going to have to woo the white working class in order to make that goal to become president in the fall. Now, you're the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, a majority white city. What are some of the challenges that you faced in wooing this community?

Mr. COLEMAN: When I ran for mayor in a predominantly non-minority environment, it was important that I talked to people's concerns, talked to people's issues, talked about the things they cared about in that these issues that we're faced with in our city and in our state and the country affect all people regardless of their race.

We are all in the same boat and we're all united to make this country a better country.

CORNISH: Throughout the primary season Senator Obama has tried to transcend the issue of race. But he's had mixed results in terms of picking up white working class votes even within his own party. So, why do you think that is? What do can be different going into the general election?

Mr. COLEMAN: Well, he has to just keep at it. This is new for a lot of people in America and that newness will soon wear off. And I think over time that people will say, look, it doesn't matter whether he's African-American or not; he's the best person to be president of the United States.

CORNISH: Mayor Coleman, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. COLEMAN: Absolutely.

CORNISH: Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael Coleman joined us by phone from New Orleans where he's participating in the National Conference of Black Mayors.

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