Swing Voters in the Heart of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania holds a presidential primary this month. NPR's David Greene, who has been eating his way across the state to find out what Democratic voters are thinking, recounts what he's heard in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
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Swing Voters in the Heart of Pennsylvania

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Swing Voters in the Heart of Pennsylvania

Swing Voters in the Heart of Pennsylvania

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

If you're finding out what voters think in a critical state, you could do worse than to cross that state, sampling food. That's what we found out this week from NPR's David Greene. He's introduced us to voters eating cheesesteak in Philadelphia and seafood in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the state is Pennsylvania, scene to the next bit contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. David, where did you eat next?

DAVID GREENE: Amish country, Steve, the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half west of Philadelphia. Right in downtown Lancaster, you can find the Central Market. It's a more-than-century-old red brick building with a lot of local fare.

(Soundbite of marketplace)

INSKEEP: Oh this is the sound you're bringing us now here?

GREENE: So lots of local flavor, and there are Amish vendors, other local vendors, selling their meats, cheeses, produce. And I really lucked out, Steve, because right up the road is Franklin and Marshall College. And one of the premier pollsters in Pennsylvania, Terry Madonna, a political scientist there, decided he was going to come over to the market and meet me and talk some politics.

So we're standing there, and he's telling me why Hillary Clinton has been leading in polls in the state.

Mr. TERRY MADONNA (Pollster; Political Scientist, Franklin and Marshall College, Pennsylvania): All of the demographics, all of the groups of voters that she's tended to do well in over the last several months crescendo in the Keystone State.

They crescendo because the state has a larger number of senior citizens, and she does remarkably well with senior citizens. She does well with Catholic voters. On primary election day, a third of the voters will be Catholic voters.

GREENE: And Steve, the list just keeps going. Madonna says Clinton will also do well among people in unions, and you know, Clinton is most effective when she's in the smaller gatherings. She can really talk to working-class people and make the argument that she's there for them, and that's what she's been doing a lot of in Pennsylvania.

INSKEEP: Although isn't Barack Obama quite effective when he has some time in a state, as you certainly have had in Pennsylvania here?

GREENE: You've got it, and he does have some time. He's been running ads. Obama's been doing his own bus tour across the state, and there's a feeling that if he closes the gap in these polls and even loses the state by single digits, Obama might be able to frame that as a victory.

So I asked Professor Madonna what Obama can do to make some real inroads in the state, and Madonna said one thing that Obama should do is focus on specifics.

Mr. MADONNA: One of the things that I've been confounded about is why, when Obama goes and talks about change, I don't hear a lot of - well here are five programs that I think would help. You know, voters who fall into this sort of work - white, working-class, blue-collar group that are concerned about health care and sending our kids to college, you know, the typical things that families sitting around a table would really care about - Clinton is connecting with them.

GREENE: Now, Steve, to be fair, Obama does have specifics in his speeches, but in recent days, he's really been taking a different approach: fewer big rallies, fewer big speeches. He seems to be trying to hold these types of town-hall meetings where he can connect with voters.

INSKEEP: So David Greene, as you were walking around this market that we're hearing the tape of, now, what were you thinking about the importance of Lancaster, the part of Pennsylvania you were in?

GREENE: Well, it's a real battleground, as Terry Madonna told me. This is a Republican part of the country, we should make clear, but the types of Democrats who live here - less working-class, a little more upscale, the types of voters who Obama might be able to attract - and you know, I was hearing different things here than I heard in other parts of the state: no talk of the Bill Clinton impeachment, no complaints about how, you know, this campaign back-and-forth has gotten tiring. Just almost resetting the clock to a place like Iowa, people thinking about issues and really studying the candidates closely and making their decisions.

So let's go around the market a little bit here. You can get produce, spices, meats. Dan Stoltzfus will, at his stand, sell you a jar of chow chow.

Mr. DAN STOLTZFUS (Vendor, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): Mixed pickled vegetables. It's sweet and sour, chow chow. It's in a vinegar base. It's, you know, they cook each vegetable separate, and then they mix them together.

GREENE: A lot of people come here at lunch to maybe grab a healthy salad, but you have to be careful if you're doing that because the salad stand is right next door to the fudge and ice cream stall.

Ms. VICKI GLOSSER (Vendor, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): So we kind of are yinging and yanging together. I'm the diet end, and she's the cheating end.

Unidentified Woman #1: A four-dollar(ph) salad with a mix of the spring - mix of the romaine, please.

GREENE: If you're dieting, you see Vicki Glosser(ph), who will make you a $9.00 salad that will feed the whole family. When it comes to the campaign, she says she's leaning towards Barack Obama.

Ms. GLOSSER: He's like Kennedy. If you look at people my age, we kind of, sort of remember Kennedy. I mean, one of my first memories is his funeral. I think he was someone that really could have made a difference if he had had more of a chance.

GREENE: Vicki is actually a Republican, and she does have her doubts about Obama.

Ms. GLOSSER: Is he the ultimate? No, he's probably not the ultimate candidate, but he's the best, I think, to have to offer.

GREENE: What would make him the ultimate candidate?

Ms. GLOSSER: A little bit more experience, a little bit older. See, I'm getting to the age now where all the - some of the candidates are younger than me, and that's hard to stomach.

GREENE: Vicki says she hopes to vote for Obama in November, but for the moment, she represents one of Obama's challenges. Obama's prided himself on getting crossover support from Republicans, but Pennsylvania required people to register as a Democrat by last month to take part in the primary. As for Vicki:

Ms. GLOSSER: My husband and I both contemplated it, and then I decided just to let it go.

GREENE: She and Paula Light(ph), her friend at the fudge counter, are yin and yang when it comes to food and politics. As a small business owner selling fudge and ice cream, Paula says she's been feeling an economic pinch, so she's looking for a president who will get into the weeds of policy and help ordinary people. Paula says she has more confidence in a Clinton.

Ms. PAULA LIGHT (Vendor, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): My gas has gone. Everything is just strapping the everyday family that doesn't make a bazillion dollars a year, and it's very difficult to get by. I haven't been on vacation. I haven't done anything because I don't have any extra money sitting around, and under the Clinton years I definitely did. I was investing in the stock market, I bought my first house, you know, and ever since Bush took over, I just don't have any money.

GREENE: All that said, Paula says she's been captured by Obama, as well.

Ms. LIGHT: Either one I'd be very happy with. Barack Obama is a fantastic speaker, but I really like the Clintons as well, and Hillary goes right along with that.

Unidentified Woman #3: Would you like some peppercorns?

GREENE: So say you've bought your salad, and you want to give it a little kick. The man you want to see is a few stalls away.

Mr. JIM FINK(ph) (Vendor, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): I'm the spice man, yes, or tea man, or whatever they call me. Yes, so my name's actually Jim.

GREENE: Jim Fink is talking to me in front of a wall of spice jars, everything from kosher salt to tarragon. Jim says he's leaning towards Hillary Clinton but giving himself time.

Mr. FINK: I really didn't do a lot of prep because I never thought we'd get to this point that Pennsylvania meant a whole lot. I mean…

GREENE: You thought you'd be waiting until November to make a…

Mr. FINK: A real decision, yes. So it's kind of fun that we're going to have a real barn-burner of a race here.

GREENE: His customer, Beth Becker(ph), has arrived to pick up ingredients for a soup and join the conversation. As for who has her vote in the primary?

Ms. BETH BECKER (Customer, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): I haven't made up my mind yet, which surprises a lot of people that know me.

GREENE: Beth, a Democrat, says Obama still has more to prove.

Ms. BECKER: My concern with Barack Obama is I haven't heard enough from him on the Middle East, quite frankly, and being a Jewish person, Israel's very important to me.

GREENE: What do you want to hear?

Ms. BECKER: I want to hear support for a peace process, being engaged in a peace process.

GREENE: Beth adds that both candidates have a few weeks to win her over.

Ms. BECKER: I'd like to hear a little more of an action plan from Obama, a little less rhetoric, and I'd like to see Hillary be a little less negative. That might help sway me a lot. But right now, I really would be okay with either one of them.

GREENE: Over by the cheese counter, Richard Russell(ph) is doing some shopping. He's a late-night cab driver. He sounds like the kind of guy who's offered a few viewpoints from that front seat, and he's not shy about offering a few to us. Electing Obama, he says, will change America's image.

Mr. RICHARD RUSSELL (Customer, Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania): Obama, certainly from a foreign-policy point of view, will be a confirmation of the fact that America actually is the land of potential.

GREENE: As for Clinton?

Mr. RUSSELL: I think that Hillary would be an excellent executive, superb president.

GREENE: For now, he's undecided and focusing on this.

Mr. RUSSELL: Hey, it's a great statement on America that both a man - a black man and a woman are serious contenders for the presidential nomination. I think we've come a long way, baby. That's a good thing. So that's the positive note to finish on.

GREENE: And so after months of campaigning and a lot of distraction, these voters in a swing area of Pennsylvania are studying up and ready to play their part.

David Greene, NPR News.

INSKEEP: David and producer Nashan Dahia(ph) met a lot of people on their travels in Pennsylvania, and you can hear more of their reports and also see a video by going to npr.org/elections. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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