March 18th, 2008
12:44 PM ET

White men and the Obama campaign

Today in Philadelphia, Senator Barack Obama talked a lot about race and politics WATCH, but when you look at the numbers, it may be white men who decide the fate of his campaign.


Neither Obama nor Senator Hillary Clinton have been able to secure the white man’s vote, a voting block now considered to be swing voters.

Turns out, working class white men make up nearly one quarter of the electorate, outnumbering African-American and Latino voters combined.  In 27 states where exit polls were conducted, Clinton won the white male vote 11 times, Obama won it ten times. In five states, they basically split the votes of white men.

The allegiance of these guys, generally defined as union members making less than $50,000 a year, is clearly still up for grabs and the candidates know it.

In Philadelphia, the union members I talked to for my story on tonight's 360°weren’t exactly shy about making their positions known.

Rick Czyzewski, a steel worker and member of Local 19 Sheetmetal Workers union here in Philadelphia, told me he’s voting for Clinton.

When I asked him what it will take for Obama to win the working class white man’s vote here, he said, "He’s gotta come out and talk to us and tell us what he wants to do with the economy. I don’t know if he said anything. All I hear is, change, change, what type of change does he got for us? I don’t know. Is he gonna tell us he wants more construction jobs."

Here in Pennsylvania, working class male voters make up about 27 percent of the voters. Obama won the white man’s vote in Wisconsin and Virginia, but he badly lost working class white men to Clinton in Ohio and Texas just a couple of weeks ago.  Did Race play a role? In Ohio, 27 percent of working class male voters said race did play a role in choosing Clinton.

Czyzewski said race doesn’t play a role for him, adding "I’m a union individual I’m thinking about what they can do for my union. I think the dems are split between Obama and Hillary and I think Hillary is a better union person than Obama is."

I asked roofer Bob Merk, a Clinton supporter here in Philadelphia, what he thinks about the race factor.  He told me, "I don’t think race is an issue at all... I don’t care if he’s black white or green, I would vote for him."  Merk told me Clinton has his vote unless Obama starts "standing up for the working man." He says, "I’d want to hear a guarantee of jobs, that the price of gasoline is gonna come down, I want to hear about better schools for my kids."

Some analysts have suggested Obama needs to talk more about his experience as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, where he worked with steelworkers and their families. Maybe even spend more time in VFW halls listening and relating to the working class voter. There’s talk within his campaign reportedly of working to show he is a bottom-up grass-roots person who has been about fighting for people who were squeezed out of jobs.

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent 

Program note: Watch Randi's report tonight on 360° at 10p ET and read other blogs from the 360° team of contributors at cnn.com/360

soundoff (293 Responses)
  1. Jackson Cage

    The union worker in the piece thinks that the President can lower the price of gasoline, and that is another example of people not understanding basic things about our economy. A lot of the commenters seem to have adopted the Clinton PR line about deeds versus words. Don't be misled people, Hillary has less experience than Obama, and she has done nothing for Union workers. She is the one who talks and talks and yet her Senate record is bare when it comes to job creation. I agree that Obama needs to spend more time talking to working class people, and believe that once he does, the numbers will swing his way.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  2. eddie

    Hillary is better for the unions when it helps her campaign. She is pro union, and on the board at Walmart for eight years. She says that she was always against NAFTA, but she praised it in her book and her earlier remarks to the media. She says we will see her tax returns on or about April 15th. We will not see the tax returns until after April 22. She has a lot to hide from the voters in PA. I wonder what the union workers and the average white man is going to think of the Clintons when we see the contributions to Bill's Presidential Library, and whatever else she is hiding. This is the Clintons we are talking about. Just look at their history. How many more scandals does this country need?

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  3. Bit

    Obama has a lot of experience with the working class people. He has to get out there and talk with the people and tell them what he has done to help those who has lost jobs or in the process of loosing jobs.

    A lot of people want to vote for him but need to hear what he is going to do for them.

    Please, Obama, tell the people what you have done and will continue to do for them.

    ALOBAMA 08!

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  4. bij

    Obama and his pastor are two separate ppl. Please let us all stop pretending like there were no truths to his words...this country is still divided by race and pushing it under the rug doesn't solve the issue. Tell me how you feel when a cab on 5th ave doesn't stop not because it's off duty or occupied but because of the color of your skin. Look at the Senator Obama and tell me that his skin color is not an issue in this election and I'll tell you "look again." CNN remains my favorite news station but should be careful not to fall into Clinton's trap of "the media being too soft on Obama."

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  5. Richard

    I am so surprised by how poorly informed so many Americans are. It is not difficult to learn about the position of each candidate and yet no one seems to take the time.

    Senator Obama has not proposed to raise taxes on those making more than $50,000, unless you mean people making way more than that amount. He has proposed to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2%, as Senator Clinton has. By contrast, Senator McCain supports tax breaks for the wealthy, so that the money will trickle down. Trickle down might work if the goods and services purchased by the wealthy are actually provided by Americans.

    Senator Obama is not racist because his pastor has used inflammatory language. If this logic is accurate, I am a racist because I support Senator Obama and Senator Obama has listened to a "racist". Similiarly, I must be pro-life because I am a practicing Catholic. Wrong. I am pro-choice, even though friends and family believe this stance incorrect based on the teachings of the church.

    Americans need to stop politicians and corporations from dividing us based on small differences and come together to bring real change to Washington DC and the reast of the United States. Senator Obama recognizes that when Americans are united that they have unlimited power. If we do not hang together, we will undoubtedly hang separately.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  6. joe from kentucky

    As I am a blue-collar white man from a red state, I will vote for Obama. He is the only person in this election that has tried to give the truth. Clinton and her spin police have done nothing but push me away and I can't wait till the end of Bush/McCain unilateralism.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  7. Valerie Gleave

    I am a 63 year old female voter. I will not vote for Clinton because she has no more experience than Obama but a vote for her is a vote for both she and Bill running our country. She has demonstrated she cannot tolerate different viewpoints – you are either with her or she considers it a fight she will win no matter what. Obama has the right temperament, intelligence and experience to find new approaches to all the challenges we have in this country.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  8. Offended

    I will no longer apologize for being white or for things that my ancestors NEVER did.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  9. Greg

    I think you need to read more Wully Bully. Obama isn't a racist. In fact he has tried very hard to keep race out of his campaign. You will be voting for hate if you don't vote for Obama because of his Pastor. Who do you really think is stirring this all up? Come on, really, how many things have your Pastor/Priest said that you don't agree with?

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Steve in Seattle

    Barack Obama is an accomplished orator and he's not really even that old. Great speech in a difficult context, but that does not make him the most qualified candidate for president! A local Seattle newspaper- The Stranger- has an article entitled "The Church of Obama". It is clearly a pro Obama article and a very worthwhile read.

    However, upon reading it, I became convinced that Barack Obama may be president one day, but not with my vote in 2008.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Mike

    Wow! I definitely don't envy Obama! This has to be the first time that someone is being considered guilty by association because of their Pastor! People are digging deep with this one. Issues, issues issues. I need to hear about economy plans. C'mon media, I get the Enquirer at the grocery store.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  12. J.D.

    So is what union workers want to here just lies? Anyone can say they will bring jobs back. Anyone can say they are gonna bring gas prices down. What we need right now is a leader that has the courage to say that he is going to try. Enough politicing, enough running on lies and sweet nothings. Hillary has the Mitt Romney syndrome: she can't help but make promises that have little to no chance of paying off. We need leaders who are honest, leaders who really care more about people and America than simply being the President of the United States. I typically identify as a Republican, but even I can see that Barack Obama is the Democrat in the race that fits that bill.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Suraj

    The problem we faced today is more international than domestic and in order for us to get out of this the winner we need to regain the confidence of our allies overseas. With all the money we have spent in the Middle East in the last few decades we still don’t have any friends. No one is helping us in Iraq. We need a leader who understand that every country is different and every nation have their own national interest at heart. The world need a leader not a dictator!

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  14. Torontoguy2008

    He is just a talker and a chance taker. we are not ready for a guy from the black group with uncertain values for our society.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  15. frank mataya

    Obama's speech showed courage, integrity, the ability to recognize problems and the williness to work with all segments of the population. Obama would be an outstanding president, if given the chance. This is a historic time for our Country. People who are unable to move on and chose to stay stuck in the past- will have the problem, not Obama or his followers.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  16. Steven

    How can Obama be a racist. Please first he wasn't black enough now he is to black. I have had friends and family say things that would embarass me. Does that make me stop being their friend. Obama is no racist. Are we racist now by association. My concern is how to send my kids to school. My concern is will my pension plan be raped. My concern is how to afford gas for my car. My concern is bring back good paying jobs. I'm not a member of that church so I really care less what the pastor has said.I commend Obama for even talking about race. Maybe if we stop all the shouting about our dislikes and put the welfare of our families first we can stop falling for all the wedge issues.While we argue whose more American and who is less racist our kids are dying in Iraq. Being a vet myself i know the enemy has little regard for race when you are in his crosshairs. Lets rebuild America and stop rebuilding Iraq.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Michael

    As as White male Obama made a wonderful speech today, he is also a once in a generation chance to have a great leader at the helm in the US. He has shown better polictical judgement then McCain and even Clinton. People seem to forget that he spent alot of time as a state senator before becoming a US senator, he has plenty of experience and the right judgement. His family is not rich and his family worked up through the world as did his wife. Listen carefully because he speaks for all men and women and he will change the US for the better.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  18. susie

    Is everyone out of their minds? If anyone (including the media) believes that Obama has a a snowballs chance in hell of winning the Presidency they are out of their minds. McCain will be the next president and it is very unfortunate. The democratic party such as Perosi, Kennedy etc deserve what they get.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  19. Toby Hill

    Obama lied when he said he was never in attendance when his pastor made the hate speeches and that will be why the "white men" along with many others won't vote for him.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  20. Michael

    As a white male voter, I find it difficult to vote for Obama or Clinton for their stances on domestic issues not their race or gender. Both candidates support capping green house emissions and both candidates support banning the construction of nuclear electrical facilities. I agree with the former, but I find their logic for achieving energy independence flawed. They indicate they want to improve education by recruiting teachers for urban communities and establishing early childhood education. This type of policy is geared to a specific population and is not equally distributed to smaller communities. I do not support a nationalized health care system. On most other issues I agree with both of them; however, these issues will push me to another candidate.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  21. R B

    What people should think is , can we trust OBAMA as president? His wife doesn't seem to like America. His paster said,
    God damn America. How can OBAMA's views be any different.

    If OBAMA gets Democratic nomination, the Presidency will be gifted to

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  22. John Smith

    Also, regarding the notion that the most important thing is experience...sorry, but I really don't want an "experienced" person in office, who knows all of the lobbies and lobbyists by name, knows all of the corrupt and scandalous politicians by name (and likely has been in more shady deals with them than we will ever know), and who has been getting kickbacks and authoritative privilage for the past 20 years. I want someone who isn't tainted by Washington, who can come into office with no strings attached, and who can make his or her own decisions based on the interest of the people and the greater good of society...not their own interests and those of the tobacco, media, and oil lobbies (i.e. Clintons).

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  23. Brian

    Obama needs to speak more of his accomplishments in the Chicago areas helping the working class man, black, white, or whatever. I've read his books and I know what he has done, but the rest of America has not. Everyone talks about what Hillary has done, but where is the proof? She hasn't brokered any international deals and she is just like all the other idiots in Washington, line her pockets with $$$$ and she'll help you do anything. She has sold her soul to the devil. And what was up with her press conference? She said NOTHING! Did she just want to be on TV because Obama was?? Shameless!!!

    March 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  24. Mike

    I am a mid 30s working class white male and Obama's got my vote. I do not dislike Hillary but she is just far too representative of the "politics of old" for my taste, and McCain, while I respect him deeply as a veteran, is just going to be more of the same that I am already tired of Bush/Cheney for having thrust upon us. It would be pretty hard for Obama to lose my vote at this stage of the game.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  25. cymba

    Obama racist? Give me a break....His Mother is white, and I am quite sure he loves her. Dont forget that. Racist/ism is having the ability to implement policy that prohibits the rights of a group of people based on differences i.e. jim crow politics. Black people never had the power to be deem racist, because they never had the power or authority to implement prejudice in law. I never knew a Black Group that said White people were unequal and implemented legal policy to that effect. Quite simply most people in America can not discern racism from other prejudices.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  26. Rich

    I am tired of hearing about experience. Dick Cheney had lots of experience. So did Bush, Rumsfeld, and the whole bunch.

    What we need is leadership and motivation. Obama is the best for that.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  27. Romero

    We could just as easily say that African Americans could decide the race because of their overwhelming support for Obama, or that women could decide the race. I think its good that the "white male vote" is split and I wish the campaign and its results would be made less about race/gender. I'm quickly losing interest in what started out as a great example of all that is good about the political system in this country.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  28. Martin

    Oh, and this whole stupid controversy that has to do with people that Obama is affiliated with is complete crap. So his pastor said some things that he probably shouldn't have. So what? I'm sure everyone has a friend who they don't necessarily agree with politically or in any other way. Everyone has different ideas, and everyone is their own person. I'm not saying that Rev. Wright was right for what he said, but I will acknowledge the fact that he's probably a pretty decent guy, and that I shouldn't judge him just because of one single thing he said. Not to mention that this whole thing shouldn't reflect Obama in any way whatsoever because Obama is not Wright. Obama is Obama. He is his own person, and the actions of other people should not effect his nomination for the presidency. People need to realize that no one is perfect and that presidential nominees are just like you and me. Again, one person should not be held responsible for another person's actions. The media has been ridiculous with things like this recently and it truly sickens me to see the immaturity of our media and news associations.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  29. Lynda O'Neal

    Obama did well explaining his pastor, but has yet to address his wife;s viewpoint of not being proud to be an American until now. Has her mother said that, it would be tolerable. She, however, has enjoyed all of the Affirmative Action perks that we have to offer. We need to get real here about what to do with this country that most of us are proud of, get past racial problems of 40 years ago and try to move on like adults. What do we do with jobs, the credit crunch and the housing debacle? How do we take care of seniors, the disabled, children, and the wounded Iraq war veterans? Talk sense, Barack. Hillary understands the needs of working people. Convince us that you do, too.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  30. Enlightened

    People are known by the company they keep. Obama has been a member of his church for how long? I'm sure his pastor has preached his brand of hate for a long time. It has been my experience that people who don't agree with a particular message usually find a church that speaks to them. All of a sudden, when his pastor comes under scrutiny he reacts?? What does that say of the man...what does that say of his character...his virtues. He is not fit to be in the politcal arena, let alone a President.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  31. Ron

    White men will decided Obama's fate? What else is new?

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  32. Nate

    I think all Americans have too decide WE THE PEOPLE are going to elect the next President of the United States or are we going to let the Media pick him or her for us. I beleived the explannation Obama gave in his speech. We do have racial issues in this country are we going to let it devide us or are we going to come together for CHANGE in America. I understand the comments of Rev. Wright upset alot of people; white and black, but one man does not speak for the black community or any community. We cannot let the silly season in poltics did up dirt on anything they can to get America off the issues. My grandmother calls it Mudding up the waters so people want get a clear picture of whats going on.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  33. Robert Ott

    I was going to vote for Mr. Obama, but after hearing his pastor and very good friend of 20 years, he new him well and he stayed with him. And even today he is still staying with him. You know for years as a white man I went outer my way to show ,that alot of us don't practice RACISM. I felt that Blacks practice more racism then the white people that I know. I don't know any white church that would say what Pastor Wright said, Ican't belive that God would going along with him.


    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  34. Chido Williams

    Voting for Hilary is fine BUT what did she do/has done to convince the two men above that jobs are going to be available? Hillary is not Bill and Bill is not running for presidency. The same old approaches to the same old politics are going to prevail and we shall see if Hillary is going to provide"the so called solution" to the two men's (referenced above) problems.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  35. Brian from Fort Mill, S.C.

    Wully Bully:
    I happen to also be an African American. One big problem we have is that, most of us have friends and associates similar to Barack Obama's pastor, and even though we don't ascribe to their views, we still have close relationships with them.

    The problem is that we continue to be judged by the way our friends behave, and the judgement is usually unfairly harsh.

    I understand the problem that Barack Obama is facing very well. You need to understand that we are not monolithic. We do not all think, talk and act alike. We also don't destroy our relationships simply because we disagree with them. We can't afford to lose support, because we were born with a social disadvantage. Some of us are angry about it, and some of us try to rise above it.

    It's perfectly fine to not support him, but you should at least consider that he is trying to rise above the issue of race, unlike Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. He's not perfect, but he is a vast improvement over those two.

    I just wish you could walk a mile in our shoes. You might consider reading a book called "Black Like Me", by John Howard Griffin. It's about a white man who has his skin chemically pigmented to appear black, and visit the deep south to witness how blacks were treated first-hand.

    But even that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's like trying to understand blindness by wearing a blindfold for a day. You can take off the blindfold any time you want, but a blind person can't.

    I really don't care who you vote for, but if just one more person at least attempts to understand someone of a different culture, race or creed, then the world will become a slightly better place.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  36. Jacqueline

    Well, the way I look at it Obama hasn't defined what he means by
    'change' that scares me.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  37. Ken

    As a white middle class male voter, I believe that Senator Obama offers the best chance to change the way the government views the public that they are to "serve" The Clintons and the Republican party will be Government / Economy as usual.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  38. axel

    Obama continues to suffer from soaring rhetoric but little actual gameplan. Problem is the devil is in the details and after two terms of Bush's grand vision, the public is looking for a more solid agenda than "change"

    Obama is doing a good job paving the road for McCain to waltz into the White House. Unfortunately.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  39. Ron

    I like Obama, and I'll probably vote for him. But I hope he hears a message that he may not have heard yet. There are many whites who feel that the problem is not crumbling schools, but what goes on inside them. The perception, on the part of many whites, is that many black kids don't want any part of "the white man's dream", instead holding out for the big bucks associated with being a professional athlete, a professional rapper or musician, or even a drug dealer. The perception is that the black students who take education seriously are harassed by those who see them as "sell-outs". If this is an erroneous perception, the white community needs to be educated with the truth. And if it's true, then the black community has something to work on. Maybe, it's a little bit of both.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  40. Linda

    Anyone who thinks Clinton has the best interest of the average working Joe in mind is in for a big suprize!

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  41. Old Man

    Anyone who thinks race is not playing a part in this primary campaign is not awake – Anyone who thinks any president can do much for this Country is also dreaming. All the pundits pick and choose the sound bites which will get the most attention and make news, while the real problem remains off the redar.
    What this Country needs is to empty the Congress and start over, the only thing that will save this Country is to eliminate the "self-perpetuating good ole boys club" , eliminate the lobbies, stop the pork giveaways. It is time for term limits in Congress. The President has term limits, now it is time for Congress – every one of them is more interested in self perpetuation that any good for the people of this Country. Corruption is rampant = ask the candidates what they will do to stop the waste and how they will do it. When this happens maybe we can all live again without worrying about our next meal.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  42. Jeff Byers

    Its about time people realize who the engine is that drives America .It is just us plain old white men that go to work every day take care of business and do not cry for handouts or set up white blocks to vote .We are America ,and do not cry to be called Irish Scottish or whatever just plain old vanilla people happy to be called Americans,its about time we are recognized for being important .

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  43. Craig

    In the bigger picture this will be better for the country because we need to elect a person with qualification not charisma. My science teacher lacked charisma but he sure new science. The same goes for all areas of expertise.

    Obama is a good man but no more qualified to be president than I am.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  44. Refuse to Change

    It seems that, like most others during this campaign, white men have first, made up their mind. Then second, they attempt to find ways to support their decision. Instead of objectively looking at the candidates and using their own independant judgement.

    Those who refuse to change are destined to perrish...

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  45. Larry from Chicago

    Unfortunately neither Obama or Clinton can bring blue collar jobs back to the rust belt. Those jobs left the US with the help of NAFA many years ago. Clinton will promise anything to get your vote, but she cannot deliver. Since Clintons are and the present administration are responsible for the decline in your income, you probably have a chance of a better out come by changing top management.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  46. NC

    I think Obama has done alot within his community on rebuilding and finding jobs, if people would read his background on what he has done, they will have a better outcome of him. How can we judge him on other people words, when every other country has judge us on how we treat each other, and other countries. We need to clean up our problems with each before we can even fix our country.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  47. Marie

    If Obama gets the Dem nomination, I think all Dem voters should cross over and vote Rep. Obama has no long term experience in running anything. He has no place in the US Gov if he and his wife keep the company they keep. Why are they not letting anyone view Michelle Obama's thesis on line from her college? The American people are now seeing the type of person Obama is and we will find out more as the year progresses. I just hope and pray the American people can see him for who he is inside and outside.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  48. John In Ohio


    You say, "What has Obama done as a Sen. that shows he practiced the governmental “change” that he preaches?" I agree! Insofar as either Clinton or Obama, the question is equally valid as well as the answer being just plain equal.

    The facts are that Clinton has no greater "experience" beyond being someone's spouse. A close examination of her claims fall far short of reality.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  49. Anne

    Obama does NOT ever explain the substance behind his words, no particulars on his "change". There is a stark contrast between "Speech Obama" and "Debate or Press Conference Obama". He does not do well thinking on his feet or answering questions on issues. Clinton is far superior in that way. She is not a great speaker, but she is VERY knowledgable and quick on her feet. That is one reason she has my vote of confidence.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  50. Mark C. Eades

    Barack Obama's "speech on race" went far further than simply addressing the Jeremiah Wright question. It was a sweeping and inspiring statement on unity that re-asserts the spirit of the Obama campaign as we saw it in Iowa and South Carolina. Obama's speech was intelligent, fair, comprehensive, and should put to rest any suspicions at least among rational people that Wright's comments in any way reflect Obama's opinions or the aims of his campaign. The Clinton campaign and its new-found Republican allies on talk radio and in the editorial pages will be hard-pressed now to come up with any further excuse to push the Jeremiah Wright story as something we should all be thinking and talking about. I have no doubt, however, that they will try.

    March 18, 2008 at 2:28 pm |
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