Obama campaign targets seniorsby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's Minnesota campaign is trying to boost Obama's standing among a key group of voters--senior citizens. Seniors tend to vote at higher rates than other age groups and Obama needs to do well with older voters if he wants to win the White House.
St. Paul, Minn. — For years, Democratic presidential candidates have tried to appeal to senior citizens by resisting attempts to change or weaken two key programs for seniors - Social Security and Medicare. The Obama campaign used the 73rd anniversary of Social Security to reinforce that message to Minnesota constituents.
"One of the big battlegrounds in this country in this campaign is how seniors are going vote," said former Vice President Walter Mondale.
At a campaign event in St. Paul, Mondale urged a crowd of about 75 senior citizens to talk to their friends, family members and neighbors about supporting Obama. He urged them to remind undecided voters that Obama will protect Social Security and Medicare.
"When good people talk to people about good people, it can make a difference," Mondale said. "This is a ground war, and we need to win this right here in Minnesota."
The campaign is also trying to take on some of the stereotypes surrounding Obama. Josie Johnson, an Obama supporter and superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, urged seniors to reject false characterizations that Obama is a Muslim. She also said supporters need to address concerns about Obama's race.
"We have got to talk about it," she said. "We have got to talk about it in a way that is respectful, responsible and historical. And until we do that my friends, we will allow it to continue to surface in small ugly ways."
It appears the Obama campaign still has work to do. A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that one in ten Minnesota voters over the age of 55 is undecided. The poll found that among older voters who have made up their mind, Obama and Republican John McCain are virtually tied.
One undecided voter contacted by Minnesota Public Radio News said she's going to have a hard time voting for Obama.
Carolyn Larson of Vadnais Heights is in her mid-60s. The self-described lifelong Democrat said she initially backed New York Senator Hillary Clinton for president.
Unlike many of the younger voters who consider Obama a breath of fresh air, Larson said she questions Obama's competence. In particular, she questioned his position on energy.
"I just see him always kind of grasping to kind of get in place," she said. "This is the latest one that I see. He was not for drilling, and I think we should. We need consider all of above and that's a very important issue with me. That's a biggie."
Another voter, David Jansen of Thief River Falls, said Obama's stance on energy also troubles him. Jansen, who's in his 70s, said he votes for Democrats, Republicans and independents like Jesse Ventura. He said he's leaning towards voting for Republican John McCain.
"I like someone who has tasted defeat and also had victory so he knows both sides of the coin," he said. "I've already seen Obama accept victory. I'd like to see him have a little taste of humility."
McCain's campaign is working to highlight the Arizona senator's experience. McCain spokesman Tom Steward said the campaign is talking about McCain's service to his country and his 20-plus years in Congress.
"That group, in particular, probably values experience and a proven record," Steward said. "Not someone who is an unknown quantity and represents a lack of experience and really a thin record. I think they probably value that in a time like this when we have a lot of national security concerns in particular out there."
Obama's Minnesota state director said he's not surprised that the polls show that McCain and Obama are virtually tied among senior voters. He said McCain is in his 70s and has been in Washington for quite some time. He said the Obama campaign has three months to introduce Obama, whom he calls a relatively new leader, to Minnesotans.
- All Things Considered, 08/14/2008, 5:20 p.m.