On Crucial Primary Day, the Times Definitely Tilts Toward Obama
Two campaign stories faced down each other from opposite pages in Tuesday's edition, one devoted to Obama, the other to Hillary, as they trolled for votes before today's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana. To those tracking the Times closely, it's no surprise who comes out with the more sympathetic profile: Obama.
In "Tagged as Elitist, Obama Shifts Campaign From High-Flown to Folksy," Michael Powell and Jeff Zeleny hinted that voter claims ofconcern about the inflammatory Rev. Wright were just camouflage for their real racial ones.
Mr. Obama's struggle to capture working-class votes also raises some unanswered questions, not least the role played by racial perceptions. Many millions of whites have voted for Mr. Obama over the course of the primaries, but his percentage of that vote has dropped noticeably in recent contests.
"You have a fair number of voters who are ambivalent on race," said Rosalee A. Clawson, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University in Indiana. "They have positive views on some aspects of race, but their negative views can be activated by something like the Reverend Wright controversy. It gives them a reason to vote against him."
On the opposite page, Hillary-beat reporter Jodi Kantor abruptly dropped her usual you-go-girltone and painted Hillary in surprisingly cynical terms in "With Right Props and Right Stops, a Transformation Into Working-Class Hero."
Whatever the results of the primaries on Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina, Mrs. Clinton has accomplished the seemingly impossible in those states. Somehow, a woman who has not regularly filled her own gasoline tank in well over a decade, who with her husband made $109 million in the last eight years and who vacations with Oscar de la Renta, has transformed herself into a working-class hero.
In promoting herself as a champion of ordinary Americans in a troubled economy, Mrs. Clinton has also tried to cast her rival, Senator Barack Obama, as an out-of-touch elitist. She has made her case at all the right stops (an auto-racing hall of fame) and used all the right props (lately delivering speeches from pickup beds).
But what is more remarkable about Mrs. Clinton's approach in Indiana and North Carolina is how minimally she uses her own biography. Perhaps because almost nothing she could say about her life would sound humble or hardscrabble - she grew up in an affluent Chicago suburb, went to prestigious schools and is, of course, a lawyer - Mrs. Clinton says very little about herself at all. Instead, she focuses on her audience's concerns. In most speeches, she now offers just one suggestive strand of her life story.
Introducing her plans to overhaul the student loan system, Mrs. Clinton explains that although her father paid her tuition, room and board for college, he refused to pay more. "If I wanted a book or a cup of coffee, I had to pay for it with money I made," she said Monday at a community college in Greenville, N.C. She never says the name Wellesley.
This is a surprising turn in the Story of Hillary Clinton, who spent her Wellesley years as an activist and a student leader. She wrote a chapter of "Living History," her autobiography, about the college, but never mentioned earning money. What the work was, she does not say in these speeches. (A campaign representative said she baby-sat, did research for a professor and supervised a park.)
From there, Mrs. Clinton quickly turns to the concerns of the people standing before her, usually a few hundred and usually white.
In the quest to criticize Hillary, Kantor came dangerously close to sounding like a Republican chiding an overdramatic liberal:
Exuding empathy, Mrs. Clinton bellows accusations at the villains of her speeches - oil companies, the Chinese government and George W. Bush - and returns to a plaintive voice to plead the case of hard-working Hoosiers or Tar Heels. She raises eyebrows and arms in exaggerated indignation. Students who take jobs they do not particularly want after graduation just to repay loans are "indentured servants," while Americans who took out mortgages they could not afford are victims of manipulation.
She never quite says, "I feel your pain," Bill Clinton's most famous line of the 1992 presidential election, but she comes close.