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McCain courts blue-collar Democrats

His lead strategist says if McCain were to get 20 percent of these voters he will win.

(Page 2 of 2)

Conservative Democrats are a key group in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and the weakest part of the ideological spectrum for Obama. Just 62 percent of Democrats who called their political views "conservative" said they would vote for Obama in a race against McCain, compared with 74 percent who said they would vote for Clinton in the same matchup, according to a Gallup poll last month.

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"Our numbers show that about 30 percent of Democrats who say they support Clinton say that if it came down to Obama versus McCain in November, they'd vote for McCain," says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. (A smaller number of Obama supporters, some 20 percent, say they'd vote for McCain if Clinton is the nominee, Mr. Newport says.)

Nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania Democrats said they would vote for McCain or stay home if Obama was the nominee, according to exit polls from the April 22 primary.

The high numbers partly reflect emotions stirred up by the nomination battle and are likely to drop by the fall. But analysts say McCain will need to siphon some Clinton supporters to win in November, partly because McCain and Obama are well matched among independents.

"If McCain can only peel a decent percentage of those away," says Steven Peterson, a political scientist at Penn State Harrisburg, "that might be the difference between winning and losing."

Race only partly explains Obama's standing among white working-class Democrats, analysts say. Some see him as culturally aloof. And according to independent pollster Scott Rasmussen, many working-class voters see McCain as more trustworthy than Obama on the economy and national security.

"They're open to voting for Hillary Clinton because they feel they did better economically under the Clinton administration than under the current administration," says GOP strategist Whit Ayres, who has conducted focus groups among white-working class voters. "But there's no way in the world they're going to vote for Barack Obama. It's cultural: they feel he's the kind of guy who plays well in Harvard and Berkeley but not very well most places in between."

Even so, McCain faces considerable odds. Mr. Bush is suffering from record low approval ratings, and the Iraq war and a string of congressional scandals have cast a pall over the Republican Party. McCain aides acknowledge that the Democratic candidate will enjoy far greater financial resources in the general election. To have any chance of victory, McCain will have to cut into traditional bases of Democratic support, analysts say.

In addition to working-class voters, the campaign is also taking aim at another pillar of Clinton's base, Hispanics. McCain is likely to spend significant time in Florida, a swing state with a large Latino population and no shortage of Democratic antipathy toward party leaders. The Democratic National Committee has disqualified Florida's primary – which favored Clinton – because its January date was earlier than party rules allow.

On Monday, Cinco de Mayo, McCain launched a Spanish-language website and vowed to undo the damage he says the GOP inflicted on itself among Hispanics with the debate over immigration reform.

By Tuesday, however, McCain was back to tending his own base. In a speech in Winston-Salem N.C., he sought to assure skeptical Republicans of his conservative bona fides on judicial nominations.