(Adds reaction from Obama campaign)
By Jon Hurdle
MUNCY VALLEY, Pa., April 21 Barack Obama's
efforts to woo white voters in the Pennsylvania Democratic
primary have been hurt by his comments on small town bitterness
and his association with an outspoken pastor, some residents of
Muncy Valley say.
Local people called the Illinois senator arrogant,
unpatriotic and un-Christian after his remarks that residents
of small towns in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are bitter because
of job losses, and so have turned to traditions like guns,
religion and anti-immigrant sentiment.
"He is saying people are weak, dumb and naive, and they are
seeking religion as a way of getting through," said Darwin
Whitmoyer, 54, a white truck driver, at the gas station in this
town of about 100 people 150 miles (240 km) northwest of
Philadelphia. "He didn't help himself."
While most black voters in Pennsylvania will back Obama in
Tuesday's crucial presidential primary, only about 35 percent
of whites have said they will vote for him, compared with the
53 percent of whites who say they will back Hillary Clinton,
according to a Newsmax/Zogby poll published on Thursday.
Pennsylvania's population is about 85 percent white and 11
percent black, with most of the remainder Hispanic.
GUNS AND GOD
Whitmoyer said Obama's mention of guns as an emblem of
rural culture was interpreted by local people as a sign that he
will restrict their use if he becomes president.
"If he isn't for guns, he's against guns," Whitmoyer said.
"He just cut his own throat with everyone who owns a gun."
Whitmoyer, who said he will probably vote for Clinton, also
said he opposes Obama's support for gay rights, and is
suspicious of his endorsement by TV host Oprah Winfrey.
"Anyone who walks with the true Christ is going to be
against Obama," said Whitmoyer, whose license plate has the
message 'I'm saved, Jesus is Lord!' He added: "Religion is
going to hurt him."
Across the street at Steve's Saw Repair, owner Steve
Peterman said he was offended by the remarks of Obama's black
pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who said the Sept. 11 attacks
were payback for U.S. foreign policy and expressed anger at
what he called racist America.
"I'm not racist, but if he would allow white people in that
church, I don't think that stuff would have been said," said
Peterman, who will probably vote for Republican nominee John
McCain as "the lesser of three evils."
But Peterman, 51, agreed with Obama's assessment that local
people are bitter about a lack of job opportunities in rural
Sullivan County, which Peterman described as having "7,000
people and one red light."
"There's no work here," he said. "You have to drive 30 to
40 miles to find a job." He said U.S. companies should be
penalized for outsourcing jobs overseas.
Sean Smith, a spokesman for Obama, said the senator has
acknowledged that he "mangled" his comments about small-town
Pennsylvanians, made during a closed-door session in San
"He mangled the words, and he regrets offending anybody in
the way that he said them," Smith said.
Smith declined to say whether the white rural vote
represented the biggest challenge for Obama in Tuesday's
primary. "We have an uphill climb here with a lot of voters,"
In the county seat of Laporte, Lara McNeil, 35, of nearby
Lycoming County, said she was suspicious of any church that
would allow a preacher such as Wright.
"I don't know what belief he is following but it doesn't
sound like any church I know," she said.
Wright's sermon raised questions about Obama's patriotism
in the mind of Robert Bressler, 74, a retired truck driver,
having coffee in The Vale Family Restaurant in Muncy Valley.
"The guy demonized the U.S. and Obama still likes him."
Bressler said. "We don't need him as president."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)