Obama's challenge

Our view: Offer more answers and empathy

April 24, 2008

Despite Sen. Hillary Clinton's victory in the Pennsylvania primary, it is very hard to imagine her winning the Democratic presidential nomination. But after Pennsylvania, it's easier to imagine Sen. Barack Obama losing to Republican John McCain in the fall. That possibility makes it a necessity for Mr. Obama to quit the recent nonstop verbal jabbing with Mrs. Clinton and refocus on issues of vital interest to voters - the current economic crisis, affordable health care, terrorism and an Iraq exit strategy.

Mr. Obama is leading in this race because he was the change candidate; he promised to build a broad-based coalition to find answers to pressing national problems. Young Americans and others ate it up, and the robust ranks of Democratic primary voters prove it. They were tired of campaigns dominated by personal attacks.

But in recent weeks, Mr. Obama has been drawn into the Clinton style of attack politics. And Mrs. Clinton has used to her advantage his inability to connect with conservative, moderate-income voters who have been the party's bedrock.

Mrs. Clinton, who boasts about her ability to withstand a fight, shares much of the blame for the recent ugliness, as do the media for their relentless focus on personal issues. But Mr. Obama can no longer afford to be seen as wryly detached. He needs to show empathy for ordinary Americans and explain how he can help them overcome their problems, whether it's expensive health care or unemployment. His impassioned speech on race was a good start. More down-to-earth discussions of his core values and goals are urgently needed. And he must find ways to do this in the face of likely continued provocation from his opponent.

Senator Obama is the sure winner of the Democratic nomination, even if he doesn't take the high road. His delegate lead and the understandable reluctance of superdelegates to go against the voters' choice virtually ensures this - absent a large misstep in coming weeks. But he will be in serious jeopardy this fall if Democratic and independent voters conclude that he is just another politician.

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