California, Pennsylvania – “People from the Mon Valley are fighters! You’re fighters because– you know what? You didn’t go to Harvard! You weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth! You live right here in this valley!”
As warmup acts for Hillary Clinton go, Pennsylvania State Rep. Peter Daley is just the ticket. Here in this valley — the Mon Valley, short for Monongahela, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania — Daley is speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered to see Clinton in the gym at California University of Pennsylvania. Daley, born and raised in the Mon Valley, is still a bit angry about Barack Obama’s “bitter” comments — “absolutely appalling,” he tells me after he leaves the stage. But Daley doesn’t deny that there are people in the economically-challenged Mon Valley who are bitter. He just doesn’t think Obama gets what it’s all about.
“People in this region aren’t bitter in the sense that he understands,” Daley explains. “Their bitterness is the fact that they’re just tired of losing their jobs, losing opportunities, losing their young people, just because we haven’t had that federal help, that little push to keep those steel mills here, keep those coal mines here, and create manufacturing opportunities.” That, of course, is pretty consistent with what Obama said, but it was the second part of Obama’s statement — the part about clinging to religion, or guns, or bigotry — that rankled. “Unconscionable,” Daley tells me.
This is Clinton country. A new poll from Suffolk University, out today, shows Clinton leading Barack Obama statewide, 52 percent to 42 percent. But in the southwestern part of the state, here in the Mon Valley, Clinton has a huge lead, 74 percent to 17 percent.
And people here aren’t just for Clinton. They’re against Obama. At this Hillary rally, no one expresses any outright hostility to Obama, but they tell me over and over again that they just don’t like him, that they don’t care for him, that they don’t trust him. They view him as inexperienced and not ready to be president, and they think he’s selling them a bill of goods.
“I could tell you I’m going build you a house, and I’m going to do everything you want,” a man named Bernie tells me. “I’m going to put everything in it just the way you want it. And then you give me your money, and you find out I’m not a carpenter.”
The new Suffolk poll found that found that 46 percent of Democrats surveyed in southwest Pennsylvania would either vote for John McCain or would be undecided if their candidate doesn’t win. They’re the people here tonight. When I ask whether they will vote for Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination, the answers are quick:
“If Hillary doesn’t win, I’m not voting.”
“I will not.”
“I’d have to debate myself on that one.”
Others said they would reluctantly cast votes for Obama. But at least half of the people to whom I speak say they simply would not vote for him in the general election.
For all that, however, the rally isn’t about Obama. Press reports have suggested that all the candidates do is trade attacks. But tonight Obama is barely mentioned at all, either by Clinton or her introducers — including Miss Pennsylvania USA Lauren Merola, who relates her experience as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader to the opportunities for women in the workforce that Sen. Clinton will foster. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell doesn’t bring up Obama. Rep. John Murtha doesn’t bring up Obama. And Clinton herself makes the briefest of mentions, saying that Obama is “attacking me” in a new ad. “He always says in his speeches that he is running a positive campaign, but then his campaign does the opposite,” Clinton says.
But that’s it. The rest of Clinton’s pitch is bread and butter. We’ve got to have universal health care. We’ve got to make college loans more affordable. We’ve got to end No Child Left Behind. We’ve got to get the two oilmen out of the White House. We’ve got to get out of Iraq. It is a solid, polished, professional speech — without the slightest touch of magic. Indeed, when you ask people what they like most about Clinton, they give workmanlike answers, too. She has the experience, they say. She knows how Washington works. They remember the days of Bill Clinton’s presidency fondly and would like to see them come back. But no one says Clinton inspires them — that’s not what they’re looking for in the Mon Valley.