Obama and Clinton Angle for Pennsylvania Voters Politico.com columnist Roger Simon discusses the faith forum attended on Sunday by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two members of America's elite who are struggling not to alienate Pennsylvania's rural voters.

Obama and Clinton Angle for Pennsylvania Voters

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She's a Methodist. He's a member of the United Church of Christ. They were both at the Christian school yesterday to take part in a CNN-sponsored Compassion Forum, fielding questions individually at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Mr. JON MEACHAM (Co-Host, CNN's Compassion Forum): Do you believe God wants you to be president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I could be glib and say we'll find out, but uh...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Where politics didn't even take a break on Sunday. CNN's Campbell Brown's first question to Senator Obama was taken straight from the headlines.

Ms. CAMPBELL BROWN (Co-Host, CNN's Compassion Forum): I don't have to tell you that you made some comments recently that are generating a lot of controversy.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): My words may have been clumsy, which happens surprisingly often on a presidential campaign.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator OBAMA: But what I was saying is that when economic hardship hits, in these communities, what people have is they've got family. They've got their faith. They've got the traditions that have been passed on to them from generation to generation. Those aren't bad things. That's what they have left.

STEWART: It was part of 48 hours of fallout and damage control for Barack Obama, as his opponents seized on - as he tried to clarify these remarks he made about some rural voters who were failed by the political process and out of jobs.

Now he said, quote, "It's not surprising then that they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-tirade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." For our weekly Monday morning Political Roundup, chief political columnist for politico.com Roger Simon joins us. Hey, Roger.

Mr. ROGER SIMON (Chief Political Columnist, Politico.com): Hey. How are you?

STEWART: Doing great. So here's a headline from a Scranton paper yesterday. "Obama Choking on a Bitter Pill." Why does it matter more that Barack Obama said this than, say, if Hillary Clinton or John McCain, or for that matter, Bill Clinton, who said this? Because he said something very similar at one point.

Mr. SIMON: You know, it matters to the voters of the Pennsylvania primary where we're all concentrating on and where Hillary Clinton, though, has a lead over Barack Obama. The lead has slimmed from double digits to single digits. It matters because Barack Obama made his statements at a fundraiser in San Francisco which adds sort of a sheen of elitism to anything he said and is now in a difficult process of walking back those comments.

As you're reading of what he said compared to how he described what he said at the faith forum shows, he's altering them slightly. He's saying what he meant - he's now saying what he meant to say. He's now not saying what he - he's not repeating what he actually said in San Francisco.

STEWART: Now, Senator Clinton has proven success with the working-class vote. Yesterday, she toured parts of Scranton, her dad's hometown. Where are the seeds of her credibility with the working-class vote?

Mr. SIMON: Well, that's a good question. Neither of them, or to put it another way, both of them could be viewed as equally elitist. He's a product of Columbia University and Harvard Law. He lives in a very nice house. He's a millionaire, a lawyer, married to a millionaire. She is a product of Wellesley and Yale Law. She lives in a very nice house. She's a millionaire...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMON: A lawyer, who's married to a lawyer. There's probably not a huge difference between them in what most Americans would view as their - and they're both U.S. senators. They're members of a small private club of only one hundred.

STEWART: So why does she have the edge in this category? In this group of voters?

Mr. SIMON: She has the edge for partially legacy reasons, partially that her husband was the last Democrat who successfully was able to talk to what is sometimes insensitively referred to as "the Bubba vote" or "the Joe Six-Pack vote." Her husband, whose educational lineage is no less than the ones I just described, plus he went to Oxford, identified early with the need in his campaign to show himself a small-town guy.

In a very famous piece of footage, "The Boy from Hope," was filmed showing Bill Clinton not as an elitist who went to elitist schools like Georgetown, Yale, and Oxford, but who came out of this very small town in...

STEWART: So she's the girl who married the boy from Hope, and now we're finding out that she used to hunt when she was a kid. She was talking about this a lot over the weekend. So she's sort of trying to follow the same path that her husband did during his campaign, the good things that he did.

Mr. SIMON: She's trying to get some gloss from that, although when Obama reacted to her claims of hunting with a shame on you, shame on you, Annie-Oakley response, it was probably as - because both as Chicagoans, they know that Franklin Park, Illinois, the suburb she came out of is a bedroom suburb of Chicago, where - I'm also a Chicagoan by the way - where police, people don't exactly go down the street with their shotguns slung over their shoulders and a bunch of ducks stuck in their belt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Got you.

Mr. SIMON: It is just a suburban - if not quite gentry, it is close enough. It is a true small-town, suburban American. But it shows that everything gets ratcheted up and no comment is left as just an innocent comment or a possible misuse of words. Everything is pushed instantly to the extremes, and the trick is to try to fight those extremes into only a 48- or a 72-hour wonder, instead of something that will drag on for days and days.

STEWART: Well, it's interesting because Hillary Clinton - it seemed like she had - I was going to use a bad phrase, dodged a bullet on the Bosnia sniper flap...

Mr. SIMON: Right.

STEWART: Until her husband brought it back up again over the weekend, which of course, sent the writers of "Saturday Night Live" immediately scrambling to their writers' room. Check out their version of her line of questioning of David Petraeus hearings from the opening of "SNL" over the weekend.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

Ms. AMY POEHLER: (As Senator Hillary Clinton) Could I ask you a question about sniper fire?

Mr. WILL FORTE: (As General David Petraeus) OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: (As Senator Hillary Clinton) Would you say that sniper fire can often be very quiet and hard to detect?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: (As Senator Hillary Clinton) Especially on video tape.

Mr. FORTE: (As General David Petraeus) I suppose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: (As Senator Hillary Clinton) I have no further questions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I know, it's very funny. I'm going to ask you to hang on and get your response to that. We're going to take a quick break. We're talking to Roger Simon from politico.com. We'll also dive in real quickly about John McCain deciding that he doesn't want public funding and what the Democratic National Committee is going to do about that. Stay with us here at the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: Hey, welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We're picking up our conversation with Roger Simon, chief political columnist for politico.com. So, Roger, we heard that snippet from "Saturday Night Live," where Amy Poehler is playing Senator Clinton saying, um, is it possible that sniper fire isn't seen on video tape?

The whole sniper fire issue, is it her decision to stick with the story and then have to back off of it? Or is it her husband who brought it back up again after it had seemed like it had finally gone away from her? Which is the bigger issue?

Mr. SIMON: I think it was her husband. I mean, one of the phenomenons of this campaign has been the decline of Bill Clinton's stature, I think. There was no more beloved figure, really, in the Democratic Party when this race began than Bill Clinton. I mean, he really was popular among Democrats, and was considered a huge plus, and I don't think anyone still ranks him at the same stature anymore.

In fact, you might have to rank him as a net minus after some of his comments. I mean she has - we sort of had moved on from the whole sniper fire thing which was inexplicable anyway. It seemed to be a genuine mis-memory and not some act of trying to hoodwink people, as he digs up the fact that oh, she said it late at night, untrue, and that, look, you can't expect the best from people when they say things at 11 o'clock.

Well, this is the woman who was running a commercial with a phone ringing at three in the morning. And if she's incapable of getting her story straight at 11, one wonders how ready she is to get, you know, her actions straight at three. It was just everything you could possibly say wrong about the issue. But what is interesting about it is that for a nation of supposed multi-taskers, we can only handle one outrage at a time...

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. SIMON: Every outrage drives out the other. Obama's comments and people clinging onto their bibles and their guns drives out the sniper issue. The sniper issue drives out the Reverend Wright issue, and the Reverend Wright issue must have driven out something else. But we seem to just like, you know, in a - just go slamming from one issue to the next as we finally work our way down to the end of this long, long process.

STEWART: Well, Roger, there's always tomorrow, for another one. Roger Simon, chief political columnist for the politico.com. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. SIMON: Hey, thank you.

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