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Obama, Common Man?

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
One thing that stood out in Tim Russert's interview with Obama on Meet the Press Sunday was Obama's claim that he and his wife Michelle have more in common with average Americans now than they would eight years from now.
At a town hall in Williamsburg, Iowa, two days ago, Obama said Michelle had told him, "We're not doing this again." But he quickly contextualized the comment saying it was a reflection of her belief that they would "have lost a little bit of touch with what ordinary families are going through. We'll still be good people hopefully but we'll be in a different orbit, in a different circle" if they were to run four to eight years from now.
"She talked about how just five years ago, we had just paid off all our student loans, after 10 years, from law school," Obama said. "We hadn't started a college fund for the kids. We were still living in a condo that was too small. I was still doing the grocery shopping on the weekends. My wife was still shopping at Target. She still does."
The comment played into a larger theme that Obama has woven into the stump in recent days, where he projects himself as a common man, someone who, until the multimillion dollar sales of two books, was struggling to meet his mortgage payments, pay off his and his wife's student loans and save for his children's education.
It was a  theme that had come up from time to time, as Obama tried to reach out to working women through economic roundtables, he would talk about how his and Michelle's marriage was strained at times as the two struggled to care for two young children and meet the demands of their careers.
But now there's a regular addition to Obama's stump speech, where he tells the crowd that he was raised by a single mother with modest means and little privilege.  He openly says that his father left his mother when he was only 2 years of age, and it was only through the power of "hope" that he made it this far.
"I was born to a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas," Obama said. "My father left when I was 2. My mother had to raise me in often times difficult standards."
He added, "So I know what it's like for single moms today all throughout Iowa."
Obama is taking a page from Edwards, who has long used a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps personal story. (How could anyone forget he is a son of a mill worker?) Obama's good fortune -- from best-selling books -- is relatively recent compared to that of Edwards, a famed trial lawyer with reportedly the largest house in wealthy Chapel Hill, N.C. So, Obama would hope that can help him appear to have more in common with middle-class Americans.
The common-man themed addition also helps to downplay the notion that the academic Obama is strictly the candidate of latte drinking liberals -- that he appeals to the smaller college-educated sect of the Democrat party rather than the larger union-based, working class sect which often tilts elections, as Ron Brownstein from the National Journal has argued.

Obama has long had a strain of populist rhetoric in his stump speech, though his re-tooled closing argument plays up the stories of ordinary working Americans as he decries corporate profits criticizing "golden parachutes for CEOs," who dump the pensions of their own employees before taking a cut in their bonuses.
In stressing his personal story, Obama is reaching out to voters in a way that Edwards has successfully done so before him, making an empathetic rather than just an intellectual appeal.

But As Edwards and Obama compete for voters, there's no question that there's a need for Obama to reach out. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows Edwards pulled into first from third among likely Democratic caucus-goers whose annual household income was less than $40,000, winning about one-third of this group. Obama also gained four points in that group, moving four percentage points to 27% with this group of voters.
Lately Obama also likes to throw in the line, "I'm a black man named Barack Obama running for president; I have to be hopeful." It generates a lot of laughs, but it once again seeks to underscore the idea that like the "average" American, Obama's potential still has a lot to do with luck, hard work and a good attitude. 
And in that message of commonality, he hopes to seek the Iowans that could actually make his future, at least, a brighter one.