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If polls show that Barack Obama has trouble winning over working-class, less-educated whites, that’s science. But if Hillary Clinton mentions it, that’s playing the race card.

I managed to convince myself at one point that the dragging Democratic primary wouldn’t be harmful. Now I’m not so sure, but don’t blame Clinton. As was pointed out last weekend, the Democratic party is an odd mishmash. Republicans are, too, I suppose. That’s what happens when you try to cram tens of millions of political views into two opposing camps.

The continuing battle seems worse for Obama, in that it diminishes his ability to attract swing voters if he’s defined as the candidate of young people, African Americans and the college-educated (who, contrary to their own self-image, are a minority).

Sure, Obama is popular online, the Web somehow predicted his victory and he has won more votes in the Democratic primaries. But anyone who thinks the Democratic primary process — or the Internet — is the best way to pick a general-election winner should think again. The Internet may simply be replicating the losing touch of the primary electorate itself.

At any rate, it’s no accident that the only Democrat to win a presidential election since 1968 is Bill Clinton, and he was anything but a front-runner in the beginning. He lost Iowa in ’92, if anyone cares to remember. And he probably wouldn’t have been too popular among the netroots, what with all his compromises, political and otherwise. OK, Gore won in 2000 — but he was vice president to a popular two-term candidate who couldn’t run again and probably would have been disowned by the party even if he had been able. (A friendly reader reminded me I left out Jimmy Carter, but pointed out that he was a long shot, too.)

The chief talking point against McCain is that he represents a third Bush term. Given Bush’s poor standing, that line of attack makes sense. But I don’t see it sticking. It just doesn’t ring true, certainly not as true as Obama’s supposed elitism. That bowling score (37, but in seven frames. So be fair: he could have rolled a 127 if every other ball were a strike) — and this picture — is going to come back to haunt him. Couldn’t he at least have unbuttoned his collar and loosened the tie? He must have been pretty uncomfortable with all that fabric tugging at his neck.

Plus, the far right will be contradicting the Dem’s attack on McCain’s behalf. Could it be the ultimate sucker punch? Conservatives hound McCain from the right knowing it will help him with independents and thereby paving his way to the White House? But let’s face it. Bush and McCain are very different men, have lived very different lives and have occasionally disagreed. Bush also won TWO TERMS. Let me go out on a limb and suggest that the polls showing low approval ratings have less to do with Bush and more to do with the way we expect people to perceive him, and the answers people believe they should be giving to the pollsters.

It’s also a tidy way to sweep him off the stage so the cameras can focus on the sequel rather than the pressing issues facing this country. Who wouldn’t want to watch a beauty contest — however ugly it gets — rather than a food shortage or a housing crisis?

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The main thing missing in the ongoing debate over Barack Obama’s comments about small-town PA are voices of actual Pennsylvanians (other than Ed Rendell). I’ve seen quotes from consultants, politicians and pollsters, but next to nothing from people who live in our small towns. So for your edification, here’s a particularly perceptive op-ed from a young reporter in York who’s a native. Athough it ran a few weeks ago, it shows why Obama wasn’t far off the mark.

Yes, Obama’s comments were a tad condescending. How would it sound if John McCain said urbanites cling to their lattes and their fear of the suburbs because they’re bitter and frustrated that health insurance isn’t universal? Someone should just say that anyway, I suppose.

But rather than discuss the issues affecting small towns in Pennsylvania, we’re going to get an argument about who’s an elitist. It seems Obama’s biggest crime was uttering words that anyone with the slightest interest in tearing him down could spin quickly and easily. If only politicians could move as quickly when they had an actual problem to solve.

Pennsylvanians aren’t entirely silent in all this. We’ve seen a mayor trotted out in favor of Obama, a guy called John Fetterman from a town called Braddock, near Pittsburgh. But look at this web site and tell me if it seems typical of small towns in any state. Rick Gray of Lancaster also has been making cameos, but Lancaster also is fairly atypical when it comes to PA towns (but aren’t they all and isn’t that part of the point about not clinging to stereotypes?)

Hillary Clinton has been running ads showing her bucolic childhood days in Scranton,. She also assembled a mayors’ conference call, but the only one quoted that I’ve read is Mayor Stephen Reed of Harrisburg. Look at the Harrisburg skyline below and tell me if this is a small town:

[UPDATE: Here are the voices of the bitter themselves]

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