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After PA, Obama Needs to Work on Image

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Joe Klein takes stock of the Pennsylvania primary aftermath and decides Barack Obama was hurt by the six-week campaign

[Obama] entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered — still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party. In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

Klein does emphatically state that many of the perceptions of Obama are unfair or based on outright lies but that the damage has still been done. Increasingly, Obama looks less like the great hope of post-partisan politics and more like a man too inexperienced and to effete to be president. No one doubts his brains. But, after Pennsylvania, there’s reason to doubt his brawn.

Fortunately for Obama, there’s more campaigning to be done. There is time yet to undo the negative perceptions (fair and unfair). If Pennsylvania taught him anything, it’s that, if words matter, actions are just as significant. People will judge politicians on whether they can bowl and whether they look like they enjoy a beer. That’s unfortunate but it’s true. We want presidents who are one of us, not leaders who believe they are above us.

Obama’s task now is to show us he has the toughness and common-man sensibilities to balance out his great intelligence and inspiring rhetoric.