Barack Obama's skin colour is turning small-town America Democrat voters towards his Republican rival, despite efforts from the Obama team to portray him as an average American.
The biracial, Hawaii-born Barack Obama is really "one of us," the presidential hopeful's backers are arguing as they sell the Democrat to the white heartland a fortnight from election day.
In the closing stretch of Obama's hard-fought election campaign against Republican John McCain, his camp is stepping up a charm offensive to woo doubters who may still see the Democrat as too exotic for the White House.
The marketing drive can appear strained at times, as when Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell tells blue-collar voters that even if they have racist tendencies, they should still back Obama for their own economic good.
National and state surveys have Obama in the driving seat at a time of financial crisis, but pollsters fret that white voters may not always be honest when they proclaim their readiness to vote for a black candidate.
Obama himself has always maintained that outright bigotry will not be culpable if he should lose the election on November 4. Rather, he says, it will be because voters do not sufficiently identify with his unusual background.
Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a "blue dog" conservative Democrat who wears his Scots-Irish heritage proudly, went to new lengths to belay the doubters when he introduced Obama at a rally in the state's rural southwest on Friday.
"We know Barack Obama's father was born in Kenya," he said in Roanoke, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Kentucky and West Virginia. Webb added: "Barack Obama's mother was born in Kansas, by way of Kentucky.
"We're going to see the election of the 14th president whose ancestry goes back to the mountain areas of this area," he said. "Barack Obama understands you. Barack Obama is like you. He knows what it's like to struggle."
Unlike any Democrat since John F. Kennedy, whose Catholicism was held in deep suspicion by voters in the Protestant heartland, Obama is campaigning as much to assuage doubts about his identity as about his policy orientation.
He's had his work cut out. His middle name is "Hussein." He is, according to a false smear campaign, a secret Muslim. And now, according to McCain, Obama is a "socialist" bent on unpicking the very roots of free-market democracy.
The McCain campaign has not attacked Obama directly in racial terms, with the Arizona senator ruling out attacks on the Democrat's fiery former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
There has, however, been a concerted attempt to cast the Democrat as an alien "other" -- a strange and rare beast who does not share the values of "Joe the Plumber," hockey moms and other incarnations of "regular" America.
McCain's running mate Sarah Palin has led the charge, exaggerating Obama's ties to former 1960s militant William Ayers to argue the Illinois senator "is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America."
At the weekend, Palin and other Republicans began drawing a contrast between the "real" America in Republican-leaning parts of North Carolina and Virginia to another, presumably disloyal America.
That provoked a scornful riposte from former secretary of state Colin Powell, another African-American who overcame prejudice to reach the pinnacle of the armed forces and US government.
Fresh from winning Powell's coveted endorsement, Obama took issue with the evolving offensive from the self-proclaimed "pitbull" Palin as he campaigned Sunday near North Carolina's giant army base at Fort Bragg.
"There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation -- we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from," he said.
There are few places that embody the "heartland" more than Kansas City, Missouri, just over the border from Kansas itself. But 75,000 supporters turned out to hear Obama speak there late Saturday, after an earlier rally in St Louis that attracted a monster crowd of 100,000 -- his biggest US audience yet.
"He was raised by Kansas women," Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said in Kansas City. "He knows those heartland values."
Date created : 2008-10-20