Obama must convince waverers

“SEE, I voted for Hillary in the primary”, said the young woman at the car hire desk here in Denver when I asked her where she intended to put her cross.

By Ben Gummer

in Denver

“SEE, I voted for Hillary in the primary”, said the young woman at the car hire desk here in Denver when I asked her where she intended to put her cross.

Not so surprising, not least because she had just moved from Scranton, in Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary four months ago, places like Scranton gave their overwhelming backing to Clinton, in what was widely interpreted as a rejection of the Obama phenomenon by older, white, mid western Democrats, many of whom have suffered from years of industrial decline.

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Conscious that he could not win in November without these voters, Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate - a man with solid “blue collar” credentials who hails from Scranton. It is a fact the campaign clearly recognises as important, as Biden repeated it - three times - in his barnstorming speech to the Democratic Convention in Denver last night.

Had Joe Biden's appointment made any difference to the lady at the car hire desk, who had just moved from struggling Scranton to affluent Denver? Not one bit - because she did not recognise Joe Biden's name. No, for her this was more fundamental than who came from where: she wanted Obama, because she wanted change.

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So what's the moral in all this? It's always wrong to draw general conclusions from single encounters with voters, as any seasoned canvasser will know. But this young woman confirmed, at least in part, what voters are saying across the United States: that for all the careful positioning of the parties, the choice of candidates and the detailed policy announcements, this election will be decided by which side can better answer two prevalent emotions - a deep desire to see change, but a great fear for what the future might hold.

Hillary, and now John McCain, have made much of the running in speaking to people's fears and professing competence in addressing them. However, Obama, although widely recognised as the candidate of change, has not managed to show that he really understands the anxieties of voters about the economy and crumbling welfare system. Hillary's endorsement is to some extent important in achieving this, as was Bill Clinton's on Wednesday night. But the heavy lifting must be done by Obama himself.

That is why tonight's speech is so crucial. He is no longer having to speak to his fellow Democrats, who have resolutely swung behind this remarkable man in the past 24 hours: anyone in Denver can feel the threatened mutiny to John McCain, among paid up Democrats at least, melting away.

This speech is crucial because it affords Obama his greatest opportunity yet to speak to worried Americans and show them not only that he understands their fears, but that he knows how best to help them. If he can do that, he will surely win the votes not only of those desperate for change, like the young woman who rented me a car, but of her former neighbours in Scranton, who are increasingly worried about what tomorrow holds.

Ben Gummer is prospective General Election Conservative candidate for Ipswich.

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