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Obama-Biden Ticket Aims at Working Class Voters


With the general election campaign for U.S. president underway, the two Democrats on their party's presidential ticket have spent time recently tailoring their message to working class neighborhoods. Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden are talking about the economy and jobs. Both are subjects, they say, for which Republican nominee John McCain has offered no solutions. Political experts see this as a major theme for the Democrats, who say their experience and background makes them better suited to lead the nation. VOA's Jim Fry looks at the two men and their message as the final two months of the contest for president begins.

A jobless autoworker introduced Barack Obama as the Democratic Party candidate for president during a campaign rally Monday in the state of Michigan, the home base of the slumping U.S. auto industry.

With some American-made hybrid cars as his backdrop, Senator Obama pointed out that unemployment in Michigan is more than 12 percent. That is double the national rate. "You don't have to tell the people of Flint or the people of Michigan that our economy is not in good shape. But you do need to tell John McCain," Senator Obama said.

The Republican Party emerged reenergized from its convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, last week, led by Senator McCain and his vice presidential nominee, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. They spoke of resisting their own party to "change the way Washington works."

The next day, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden brought to Philadelphia his party's message of change for ordinary Americans. "The silence of the Republican Party was deafening," Senator Biden said. "It was deafening on jobs, on health care, on environment -on all the things that matter to the people in the neighborhoods I grew up in."

Campaign strategy expert John Sides, a professor at George Washington University, is already seeing the Democratic ticket's major themes during these early campaign appearances. "I think what we're seeing now is a full fledged roll out of the Democrats' general election strategy," Sides said. "The Number 1 issue on people's minds is the economy."

Different Backgrounds

The two Democrats approach the campaign from very different backgrounds.

The biracial Obama - son of a mother from Kansas and a father from Africa - is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He gave up a big salary to work in a low income community in Chicago.

Joe Biden, despite his three decades in the Senate, still emphasizes his working class roots. Last month, Biden made a point of visiting with his fellow riders on the train he took to Washington every day.

"And so [Biden's] background as a son of a working class family gives him something different form Obama's obviously rather unique biography," Sides said.

Vice Presidential Choice

Biden has served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has extensive foreign policy experience. Presidential Scholar Stephen Hess says Biden's experience provides further balance. "He knows a lot about the world, maybe of all the United States Senators, he knows the most," Hess said. "Well again, that was an area in which Barack Obama was most attacked for: inexperience. So he strengthened the ticket in that way."

Still, Biden will face what some see as a delicate task in debating the newcomer Sarah Palin, whose political background is not as deep.

"She's going to be judged, I assume, the same way I'm going to be judged," Biden said. "What does she know? What does she think? What's her record? What's she going to do?"

This week, as Obama visited a lunch crowd in working class Pennsylvania and his running mate spoke with a Florida crowd that included retirees and Jewish voters, the Democrats were slipping in most public opinion polls. The polls were taken after both political conventions.

Tuesday, Obama addressed the subject of the polls. "What we're going to have to do is see how things settle out in the next several weeks, when people start examining who's actually going to deliver the issues that people care about," Obama said.

Obama says he welcomes the debate. He asserts he and Joe Biden are better equipped than the Republicans to bring about change.

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