bbc.co.uk Navigation

The candidate as Ordinary Joe

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 11 Oct 08, 11:24 PM GMT

PHILADELPHIA: We stood outside the Mayfair Diner in north-east Philadelphia today, waiting for Barack Obama.

The diner, in brushed chrome, glistened in the stark autumn sunshine.

As I looked around, it seemed the perfect back-drop. Across the road was the Soft Pretzel Factory which was next to Shop 'N Go selling hoagies and cold cuts. This was a location where every detail placed the candidate among ordinary ''working" Americans.

Obama supporters in western PhiladelphiaBarack Obama gave the diner a plug and suggested we all head there afterwards.

Nothing in the final month happens by chance. This location was carefully chosen. Obama knows that the group most resistant to him are white working-class Americans. Some voters find him aloof -somehow different from them. And image matters.

John Kerry's Advisers told him not to go wind-surfing. It set him apart, they argued. He would not have it. Some of Obama's advisers have suggested he needs to be seen eating fast-food. He must be an ordinary American.

Sarah Palin has gone much further. She peppers her speeches with folksy phrases like "doggone it" and drops in a conspiratorial wink. She not only pitches her appeal to "Joe Six Pack", she believes that it's time for the Joe Six Packs of the world to be heard, to be at the top table of power.

Here's a thought we were having as we sat near Billie's Boomer Lounge, by Locust Street, waiting for the fourth Obama event of the day. No politician can afford to appear aloof but do people want a president who is "ordinary Joe", just like themselves? Surely, I argued, we want leaders who are smarter than ourselves?

Not necessarily so, I discovered in conversation. No-one, it seems, likes a smart politician.

Barack ObamaLater in the day Obama said, "I like sweet potato pie," and chatted about the recipe. The crowd liked it - they connected to the candidate.

What does not seem to work is when people suspect a candidate is acting outside their own skin. During the last campaign, I remember John Kerry going duck shooting. When he returned carrying the bird, no-one believed he had actually shot it.

But every day, each candidate wants the voters to feel he or she understands them and is just like them.

Of course they are not, but the voter must feel they are.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC.co.uk