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Economy a Top Issue Ahead of Pennsylvania Primary

As the Pennsylvania primary draws near, Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are crisscrossing the Keystone State in a bid for voter support in a state where a complex mix of issues -- from the economy to religion -- ranks high for voters. Political analysts from across Pennsylvania preview the contest.

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    The back-and-forth between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stretched into a fourth day today, incited by Obama's recent comment that hard economic times have made some small-town, working-class voters "bitter" and that they "cling to guns and religion" as a result.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I can still remember the first time I saw a shuttered mill.


    At a meeting of the Alliance for American Manufacturing in Pittsburgh this morning, Obama pointed to Clinton's past support of free trade deals as evidence that she is the one out of touch with Pennsylvania's blue-collared workers.


    You can't spend the better part of two decades campaigning for NAFTA and PNTR for China, and then come here to Pennsylvania and tell the workers that you've been with them all along.


    Obama also poked fun at Clinton's visit to a bar in Crown Point, Indiana, over the weekend where she drank a shot of whisky and a beer.


    Candidates, they just can't do enough. They'll promise you anything. They'll give you a long list of proposals. They'll even come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer.

    But if those same candidates are taking millions of dollars in contributions from the PACs and the lobbyists, ask yourself: Who are they going to be toasting once the election is over?


    Clinton also spoke to the manufacturing group this morning and criticized Obama for not owning up to his statement about small-town workers.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Instead of looking at himself, he blamed them. He said that they "cling to religion and guns" and dislike people who are different from them.

    Well, I don't believe that. I believe that people don't cling to religion; they value their faith. You don't cling to guns; you enjoy hunting, or collecting, or sport-shooting.

    I don't think he really gets it, that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.


    Republican John McCain took a turn, jumping into the fray today over Obama's "bitter" comment, when asked about it at the Associated Press's annual meeting in Washington.


    Do you think the senator is an elitist?

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: Oh, I don't know. I think those comments are elitist. I think that anybody who disparages people who are hard-working, honest, dedicated people who have cherished the Second Amendment, and the right to hunt, and the right to observe that, and their values, and their culture that they value, and that they've grown up with, and sometimes in the case of generations, and saying that's because they're unhappy with their economic conditions? I think that's a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about.


    Just as it was today, much of the focus this weekend was squarely on the dustup between Clinton and Obama. Both candidates participated in the Compassion Forum held Sunday night at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where they discussed the role of faith in public life.

    Clinton went first, although the initial question was not about her faith, but rather her criticism of Obama. She said his remarks were indicative of the problems the past two Democratic presidential nominees have had in running for office.


    I do think it raises a lot of concerns, and we've seen that exhibited in the last several days by people here in Pennsylvania, in Indiana, where I was yesterday, and elsewhere, because it did seem so much in line with what often we are charged with. Someone goes to a closed-door fundraiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch, and, frankly, patronizing.

    That has nothing to do with him being a good man or a man of faith. We had two very good men and men of faith run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or, frankly, respect their ways of life.


    Obama responded by saying his words may have been clumsy, but his intentions were good.


    What I was saying is that, when economic hardship hits in these communities, what people have is they've got family, they've got their faith, they've got the traditions that have been passed onto them from generation to generation. Those aren't bad things; that's what they have left.

    And, unfortunately, what people have become bitter about — and oftentimes have told me about, as I traveled through not just Pennsylvania, but I was referring to states all across the Midwest, including my home state — is any confidence that the government is listening to them.


    A new poll in Pennsylvania taken just before this latest controversy shows Obama had narrowed Clinton's once-sizeable lead to a virtual dead heat. Keystone State voters cast their ballots one week from tomorrow.