McCain Takes Message to Poor, Democratic Areas
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The McCain campaign billed this week as its Time for Action tour. But from its very first day in Selma, Alabama, McCain made it clear he wasn't talking primarily about action by the federal government.
HORSLEY: I'm not going to tell anybody about how government can make their choices for them, but how we can help grow our economy so that people have better choices to make for themselves.
HORSLEY: He says that will help foster new jobs and new industries, where the U.S. is most competitive.
HORSLEY: Today, for example, 1.3 million people in the world make a living off eBay. Most of those are in the United States of America.
HORSLEY: Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams likes the idea of enhanced training. But Williams - a Democrat who's supporting Barack Obama - says McCain has an uphill battle, especially since his platform on taxes and health care is very similar to President Bush's.
MONTAGNE: If it was just John McCain absent the last eight years, he might have a better opportunity. But I think he's going to be hard pressed to really distance himself from what's been going on over the past eight years.
HORSLEY: Still, Williams gives McCain credit for showing up in Youngstown. Like many of the stops on McCain's tour this week, the city is heavily Democratic, and heavily African-American.
MONTAGNE: Even if he didn't win a lot of people over, he did at least put himself in a position to say, well, I came and brought my message there. I wasn't going to run away from the fact that this was a, historically, been a Democratic area.
HORSLEY: And that's the whole point, says political analyst Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College.
P: John McCain really isn't expecting to get any more than a sliver of the black vote or do well among poor voters. What he's hoping to do is reach out to moderate white voters who want to see a presidential candidate showing compassion. So, his real audience consists not of the people in front of him, but of the people watching in the media.
HORSLEY: On Wednesday, McCain drew an overflow crowd to the Martin County Courthouse in Kentucky. Republican State Senator Brandon Smith thinks his experience as a prisoner of war may have helped McCain, one of the nation's wealthiest senators, to connect with his poor Appalachian audience.
HORSLEY: We were pretty much isolated here in these mountains, and I don't think, a lot of people felt we were left, you know, behind. And I think, obviously, being a POW, you're left behind. You know, you're there on your own. And if there's one thing he connects with people there is he knows what it feels like to be abandoned or to be left behind and to have to be on your own and have to have the inner strength to put it together to come out of that.
HORSLEY: That may help to account for McCain's strong showing with white working-class men. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, McCain did better with those men with either Obama or Hillary Clinton did, but political analyst Pitney warns the sagging economy could erode that support.
MONTAGNE: His appeal to white working-class voters is partly cultural and partly a matter of his status as a war hero. But if the economy is still in recession on Election Day, then he's going to have a very, very hard time, no matter how many tours he makes.
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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