Obama returns to the flag after Republicans attack his patriotism

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The Independent US

Battered in West Virginia by white, working-class voters, the "almost nominee" of the Democratic party, Barack Obama, wants to re-brand himself as a flag-waving American. Or at least as a flag-pin-wearing American.

Mr Obama had his worst primary performance of the campaign in West Virginia on Tuesday when even his most enthusiastic backers – university educated young whites – abandoned him. He received only 26 per cent of the overall vote, compared to 67 per cent for Hillary Clinton. Even John Edwards, who dropped out of the race months ago, managed to get seven per cent of the vote.

With a pool cue in one hand and a flag pin on his lapel, Mr Obama gamely tried to fight off his elitist image in West Virginia. It's the second time in as many weeks that he has sported one. On another occasion he wore a flag pin for a day after it had been presented to him by a veteran.

Yesterday, as he took his campaign to working-class districts of Michigan after picking up three more endorsements from superdelegates, who are crucial to winning the presidential nomination, he was sporting the lapel pin as he visited a car plant.

With a promise to bring Republicans and Democrats together, Mr Obama declared some time ago that he had stopped wearing such flag pins routinely because he felt they became a substitute for "true patriotism" after the 2001 terrorist attacks. There was a sigh of relief from the people Mr Obama now describes as "Chablis-drinking liberals" that the jingoism of the Bush presidency might end.

"I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest," Mr Obama said back in October. "Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism."

In Michigan, Mr Obama was paying closer attention to the concerns of working-class Americans. At the Chrysler plant near Detroit, where tens of thousands of jobs are being shed, he promised to bring $100m of investment for green plug-in car technology.

The candidate is learning the hard way the dangers of being cast as a cultural foreigner, if not an outright alien, by his opponents. By occasionally wearing a flag pin he is moving to head off attacks on his patriotism after no less a figure than Karl Rove, the notorious former George Bush strategist turned Newsweek columnist recently attacked him for disdaining the pin.

Yesterday, Michigan Republicans released a video of an American flag slowly dissolving into a white background while a narrator intones: "Barack Obama believes that those of us from small towns in the Midwest 'get bitter and cling to guns and religion'... He will compromise America's strength, mission and integrity."

Mr McCain has also attacked Mr Obama's association with an unrepentant former Weather Underground bomber, Bill Ayres, and for his "endorsement" from Hamas.

If there is a lesson from Mr Obama's heavy defeat in West Virginia, it is that the Republican mud can stick. "Swift boat attacks" helped destroy John Kerry's credibility among working Americans in 2004, even though he had an impeccable record as a war hero.

Instead of being viewed as poor kid, raised by a white single mother on food stamps, Mr Obama is in danger of being defined to millions of working-class voters as a pointy-headed elitist out of touch with the core values of millions of Americans.

By contrast, Mr McCain, had a privileged upbringing as the son of a US admiral. But as a war hero, he is seen as beyond reproach by many – whether he chooses to wear the pin or not.

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