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Obama in NASCAR Country « The Washington Independent

MARTINSVILLE, Va.–Let me make myself clear: I don’t get NASCAR. I have no friends who get NASCAR. In fact, the only person I know who has any interest in the sport is my barber Ray in Oxford, Ohio who’s turned his shop over the years from a wood-panel basement filled with deer heads and mounted fish into a shrine to Dale Earnhart. And, truth to tell I’m not which motif I find more strange. For the record Ray–who gave me first haircut at age two–has and will forever give one hell of a haircut.

But I digress. Because while I will never understand its sport and its fans’ devotions, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama must. That’s because, for whatever reason, the sport has come to symbolize a new powerful voting bloc who do one important thing besides drive the ratings of cars going around in a circle: Vote. It’s this understanding that today, on a day when a new national poll shows him suddenly trailing Sen. John McCain by five points in the polls, Obama arrived at Patrick Henry Community College’s Motorsports Facility where they train people to work in NASCAR.

It was here Obama stood with the state’s former governor Mark Warner, himself engaged in a race for the U.S. Senate. As much as I don’t get why NASCAR’s considered a sport, it’s difficult to honestly and truly understand what’s happened to a town like this. A town built on manufacturing has been leveled by companies who’ve moved their operations overseas. In many ways Martinsville and towns like it are the frontline of this campaign. It might seem like difficult terrain for a candidate that’s been painted as an elitist, but Obama’s been on this terrain before. Running for U.S. Senate, he overwhelmingly won over white male voters in Southern Illinois who voted Republican their entire lives. Now on the national stage he must do the same–making sure they can relate to him and his ideals, making this contest Obama’s race to win.

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