In the midst of an assault from his rivals, a defensive Barack Obama said Friday that many working-class Americans are angry and bitter over economic inequalities and have lost faith in Washington — and, as a result, vote on the basis of other issues such as gun protections or gay marriage.
The Illinois senator’s analysis of what motivates working-class voters came after chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton accused him of looking down on such voters. Clinton rebuked Obama on Friday for similar remarks he made privately last Sunday to a group of donors in San Francisco.
“People don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody is going to help them,” Obama told a crowd at a Terre Haute, Ind., high school Friday evening. “So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington.”
The Huffington Post Web site reported Friday that Obama, speaking of some Pennsylvanians’ economic anxieties, told supporters at the San Francisco fundraiser: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. … And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
In Terre Haute, Obama said he did describe some voters as bitter when a donor asked why working-class voters in Pennsylvania were not getting behind his campaign.
“Well, that’s not my experience,” Clinton told a Drexel University crowd, describing the state’s residents as resilient, optimistic and hardworking.
“Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them,” she said. “They need a president who stands up for them.”
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Republican candidate John McCain, described Obama’s comments as “condescending” and “out of touch.”
In Terre Haute, Obama chided McCain for not responding promptly to the home mortgage crisis and criticized Clinton for voting for a bankruptcy bill supported by credit card companies.
“No, I’m IN touch,” he said. “I know exactly what’s going on. People are fed up, they are angry, they’re frustrated and they’re bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington.”
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said Friday night, “Instead of apologizing for offending small-town America, Senator Obama chose to repeat and embrace the comments he made earlier this week.”
Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for McCain, said Friday: “Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration. … You can’t be more out of touch than that.”