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Barack Obama, Bowling Alleys, And Billy Joel

For the last two weeks or so, as my colleagues can attest, I've been asking everybody I know whether they recalled ever seeing Barack Obama stand outside a factory and greet workers as they walk in for their shift. It's one of, if not the, most cliched moments in poiltics. But I couldn't recall Obama doing it--and neither could any of my colleagues. I also didn't find any references to such events on Lexis-Nexis, either--although, in fairness, it's not so easy to search for that sort of thing.

I thought that was indicative of Obama's biggest poiltical problem: His inability to connect with working-class white voters. It was the reason he'd struggled in Ohio--and, I presume, the reason he's been so far behind in Pennsylvania. And while there's no simple fix, I've always thought Obama just needed to spend more time interacting with blue-collar voters and establishing the kind of relationship he now lacks.

Lo and behold, that's just what he doing. As Paul West reports in the Baltimore Sun, Obama's ongoing tour through Pennsylvania is a break with the recent past. He's not filling basketball arenas with thousands of activists and college students. Instead, he's hitting bars, bowling allies, and--yes--factories. 

As the article explains, he's also trying to fly under the radar, in the political sense. He's riding in an unmarked luxury bus, not a garish campaign caravan. He's making himself available to all sorts of local press, but not national. And his staff isn't even announcing all of these events early.

Some of this is expectation-setting, so that if he merely closes his double-digit gap with Clinton, it will seem like a win. But I wonder if this isn't also a conscious effort to downplay the idea that Obama is a rock star--and his campaign a phenomenon--and concentrate instead on his credentials as somebody who cares about, and is committed to helping, working class voters.

By the way, Obama will be campaigning in Allentown today, which gives me a chance to feature the classic Billy Joel song:

--Jonathan Cohn