Obama tries to ride past "rough couple of weeks"

INDIANAPOLIS Fri May 2, 2008 12:31pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama gestures as he speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in South Bend, Indiana May 1, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

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INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Faced with doubts about his White House bid after a "rough couple of weeks," Barack Obama is trying a folksier, more personal style as he pushes his economic plans at veterans' halls, factories and country fairs.

But even as his opponents, fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, seize on his difficulties, a major strategy shift is unlikely for the Illinois senator who takes pride in the nickname "No Drama Obama" for his steadiness.

"I wouldn't trade with anybody else, Democrat or Republican," said Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director.

"We've had a plan from the beginning. We've executed that plan. So there's no need for us to make any drastic changes. There's ups and downs to it but we've had a lot more ups than we've ever had downs."

Obama, engaged in a protracted battle with Clinton to be the Democratic candidate running against McCain in the November election, told reporters in Indianapolis there was no doubt "we've had a rough couple of weeks."

"What I don't spend a lot of time doing is obsessing about what-ifs and should've beens," he said on Friday. "I don't spend a lot of time anguishing and looking backwards."

Obama's rousing rhetoric and vow to change Washington vaulted him to Democratic front-runner status, edging out Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady.

Obama still leads in both the popular vote and number of delegates who select the party's nominee at its August convention, but has seen some of his campaign's luster fade in recent weeks.

Obama's losses to Clinton in the big industrial states of Ohio and Pennsylvania fueled questions about his ability to attract working-class voters who could be crucial to his chances of defeating McCain.

Those questions came up again last month when Clinton and McCain seized on comments Obama made about "bitter" small-town voters who "cling to guns or religion." His opponents said the remarks showed the Harvard-educated lawyer was elitist.

This week, the campaign was jolted when Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, took the spotlight to repeat his charges that the U.S. government deserved some blame for the September 11 attacks and had a hand in spreading AIDS to blacks.

Obama, who would become the first black U.S. president, took to the airwaves to call the minister's comments outrageous and declare that Wright does not speak for his campaign.

SMALLER EVENTS

Obama has emphasized a more personal campaign style, holding smaller events and talking more about his own life, as he and Clinton head into the final state-by-state contests in the Democratic race.

The candidates face important tests on Tuesday in North Carolina, which leans toward Obama, and Indiana, where polls show a close race.

Known for electrifying crowds at high-energy, stadium-sized rallies, Obama has been meeting voters at town halls at country fairgrounds or even smaller venues, such as in kitchens and backyards, where he emphasizes pragmatic solutions to such day-to-day problems as high gasoline costs.

"Look, it is crushing people and it's obviously having a huge effect on your bottom line," Obama said of fuel prices at a barn in South Bend.

Obama cast himself as "truth teller" in criticizing as a gimmick a proposal by both McCain and Clinton for a summer holiday from the federal gasoline tax. He said the plan would save each family less than $30 and would not solve the long-term problem.

"The reason it was presented was not because it was a good idea but because politically it looked like it might be a winner," Obama said, sticking to his campaign's central message of pushing to overhaul politics in Washington.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said a fine-tuning, not a major strategy shift, might be Obama's best approach. He noted Obama benefits from a disciplined campaign team some analysts compare in its level of organization to President George W. Bush's in 2000 and 2004.

"Every campaign has its series of crises," Sabato said. "You can't tell a winning campaign from a losing campaign by counting the number of crises it has. If Obama is careful, he will be able to weather the storm."

(Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Frances Kerry)

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