CAPE GIRARDEAU — Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama planned an economic town hall meeting at Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri today, a visit viewed as an attempt to court swing state and working-class voters.
The senator from Illinois will be joined at the invitation-only event by Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Obama will meet at 5 p.m. with workers at clothing manufacturer Thorngate Ltd.
In the Feb. 5 primary, Obama won Missouri but lost Cape Girardeau County to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
McCaskill, who endorsed Obama early in the primary season, is a co-chairwoman of his campaign. She said too often Democratic candidates see Missouri only in terms of St. Louis and Kansas City.
McCaskill said Obama is “trying to show his belief that there are no red places or blue places or Democratic states or Republican states. There’s just a whole lot of America that wants a different set of priorities in the White House.”
She said the problem in rural Missouri was not that Clinton was a better candidate but that she was just more well known.
“He knows he needs to spend more time in places like Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Poplar Bluff, Springfield, Columbia, and multiply that by 50,” McCaskill said. “He has got to make sure that people outside of Democratic strongholds understand he is somebody who loves his country very much and will fight for the middle class.
“I’m confident he will be back in Missouri again, and he will be visiting places other than St. Louis and Kansas City.”
Meanwhile, Missouri Republican leaders Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and Missouri Republican Party chairman Doug Russell said in a morning phone call with reporters that they don’t see Obama as a candidate who offers what southeast Missourians are seeking.
Both Kinder and Emerson made reference, in part, to Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser in April claiming that small-town residents in places where jobs have been gone for 25 years are bitter and thus cling to guns or religion.
They said gun rights and faith are significant in southeast Missouri, but Kinder said it was not due to bitterness.
“That’s just part of the culture, the fabric of our lives,” Emerson said.
Dave Robertson, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Obama can’t do anything that would make people forget those comments.
“He can’t make it go away, but he can make people care about it less than the economy and Iraq, and that’s what he’s going to do,” he said.
He said visiting Cape Girardeau allows the candidate a chance to appeal to working-class voters in a sensitive swing state. “It’s a very good barometer,” he said about Missouri. “It’s a good indicator of the country and the way it’s leaning.”
Obama’s visit is part of a tour dominated by swing states, where he hopes to run strong against Republican John McCain once the Democratic race ends. President Bush won Missouri in 2000 and 2004.
An associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Robert Evanson, noted that Obama’s visit to Missouri comes on the day when Clinton is expected “to absolutely cream” Obama in the West Virginia primary.
He said that though Obama looks like the Democratic nominee, the candidate needs to do better with small-town, working class, white voters with whom Clinton has had success. “He has to appeal to small-town folks,” he said.