Dems Discover NASCAR, Guns and Apple Pie

http://images.politico.com/global/obamaguns.jpg
(Via Politico)

Where's Annie Oakley when you need her?

It's no secret that Hillary Clinton has eagerly transformed herself over the last month or so from a wonkish First Lady (who once mocked wives willing to "stay home and bake cookies and have teas") to a pugilistic working-class pol. In an effort to boost her bid by winning over even more of her--older, poorer, less educated--white voters, Clinton has, in the past few days alone, pumped gas into a Ford F-250 in South Bend, Ind.; shouted a speech, a la Fred Thompson, from the bed of an old red pick-up truck in Gastonia, N.C.; and stood alongside legendary driver Junior Johnson in Mooresville, N.C. to deliver a labored NASCAR metaphor. "It's an exciting race," she said of the Democratic contest. "You know, it's kind of like a big NASCAR... event. The biggest events in the history of sports, right? Well, this is kind of like the NASCAR of Democratic primary elections." After which she added "y'all" and sped away on a dirt bike.

Perhaps Clinton's most entertaining working-class affectation appeal, however, arrived late last week in the mailboxes of voters all across the Hoosier State: a mailer demanding to know "where... Barack Obama really stand[s] on guns" (above). Sure, there's something ironic about Clinton questioning Obama's Second Amendment cred; after all, she's long been considered a staunch proponent of gun control, having told the Newspaper Association of America during her 2000 Senate campaign that “there isn’t a more important task” than passing gun-safety laws. But the best part of the attack was the image itself. According to Ben Smith at the Politico, it's a shot of a high-end hunting rifle that was once popular with military snipers--the Mauser 66. The problem is, whoever designed the mailer flipped the picture--creating a non-existent left-handed model in the process. “The gun in the photo does not exist,” said Val Forgett III, president of Navy Arms in Martinsburg, W.Va, who added that the error would be obvious to sportsmen. “I find it laughable on its face. It’s like a picture of Babe Ruth hitting right-handed.” And to make matters worse, writes Smith, Clinton's Mauser is "an expensive German gun with customized features that make it clearly European." "It’s a $2,200 German import," adds Forgett. "It’s hardly typical of what the average workingman in Indiana uses."

Shoot. Or, as Politico reader David Phillips put it, "what a latte-sipping, Gucci-wearing thing to do."

Obviously, the gaffe is not Clinton's fault; despite her fond recollections of learning gun play with grandpappy Rodham in Scranton, no one actually thinks she knows the first thing about firearms (or that she designs her own mailers). But the error underscores how tenuous her cultural connection to the working class really is. Of course, Clinton isn't alone is this blue-collar charade. As we wrote on Friday, Barack Obama has been chugging every cold one he sees, and over the weekend, he eschewed arena rallies in favor of small-town photo-ops with wife Michelle and daughters Sascha and Malia (see, I'm a family man) in a Subway, a roller-skating rink, a local park and a barn, where he sat amid campaign-assembled hay bales. In Union Mills, Ind. on Friday, Obama delivered two apple pies to the Evers family farm and played what was portrayed as a spur-of-the-moment game of P-I-G in the driveway--even though, according to Melissa Evers, 37, the campaign settled on her house only after deciding a neighbor's place wouldn't work. "They wanted anyone who had a farm with a basketball hoop,” Evers said. “He wanted to play basketball. That was kind of planned.”

Kodak Moments like these are Politics 101. Still, there's something a little absurd about Clinton and Obama's obsession with proving whose collar is bluest mainly through props and photo ops--especially when elementary errors (like the one Team Clinton made in the gun mailer) easily undercut such superficial "arguments." What's clear is that in a general election battle against John McCain, apple pies and pick-up trucks won't do the trick; the Arizona senator (white, male, war hero) is practically Larry the Cable Guy compared to either of this year's exotic Ivy League Dems. Which means that, come fall, Clinton or Obama will have to rely on policy, not personality, to appeal to downscale voters. Amid all this incongruous chatter about guns and NASCAR, one sort of wishes they'd start sooner rather than later.

That said, if the Democratic nominee needs a boost with the good ol' boys in November, he or she'd better pray that Bill "Bubba" Clinton is still willing to work. Zigzagging across Indiana and North Carolina for the last two weeks, the former president has largely skipped the major cities, where blacks, students and transplants tend to congregate, in favor of tiny, far-flung rural towns that are heavily white and heavily working class. His message is simple: I'm one of you. According to the Washington Post, Bill has been sure to tell audiences that he "learned to work on cars" as a kid, "changing oil" for the first time when he was five years old. During law school, he's added, he "worked six jobs, but never more than three at a time." And when the scent of pepper and vinegar drifted his way at the start of a speech in North Carolina--two locals were barbecuing meat over hot coals nearby--Clinton couldn't resist licking his chops. "I can smell that pig pickin'," he said. "And you know I'm going to eat some later." 

Memo to Hillary and Barack: don't try this at home.