06/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jim Webb On Winning Over Working Class Whites

On May 21, on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) talked about his own Scots-Irish roots and why members of this group may be resistant to Barack Obama.

Webb says their reluctance to support Obama has nothing to do with racism; rather, it is rooted in long-standing resentment over affirmative action. This is how Sen. Webb described these votes in responding to a question from former Republican presidential candidate and strategist Pat Buchanan.

... Black America and Scots-Irish America are like tortured siblings. They both have long history and they both missed the boat when it came to all of the larger benefits that a lot of other people were able to receive. There's a saying in the Appalachian Mountains that they say to one another and it's, "if you're poor and white, you're out of sight."

The fact that they, (the Scots-Irish), would line up and vote this way is not so much a comment on Barack. I think Barack is saying a lot of good things that will appeal to this cultural group in time.

This is the result of how affirmative action, which was basically a justifiable concept when it applied to African Americans, expanded to every single ethnic group in America that was not white, and these were the people who had not received benefits and were not getting anything out of it. And they're basically saying, "Hey, let's pay attention to what has happened to this cultural group in terms of opportunities."

Obama's weakness in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and other states, parallel the presence of large populations of the Scots-Irish descendants that Sen. Webb writes about in his 2004 book, Born Fighting. According to Webb, because of their white skin, the Scots-Irish who spread out along the spine of the Appalachians, and who shared needs similar to black Americans and other minorities, were not invited to the table of opportunity offered by affirmative action.

But this is precisely where Webb sees an opportunity for the Democrats:

"...If this cultural group could get [around] the same table as Black America, you could change populist American politics. Because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government."

How does the Obama campaign overcome the resentment and bring the Scots-Irish working class voters into the Democratic base to stay? A recent Pew Survey report offers some insights.

While 68 percent of Democrats and Independents rate "Job Situation" a top priority, only 43 percent of Republicans are concerned.

We see that 57 percent of Democrats and Independents rate "Problems of the Poor" a top priority, only 34 percent of Republicans rate these issues a major concern.

"Insuring the Uninsured" is another key issue that reveals the gap between Democrats/Independents and Republicans. Responses show that 61 percent of the former view health insurance a top priority while 27 percent of the latter show concern.

These issues and others like them-- where the people of Sen. Webb's Born Fighting and Obama supporters find common ground-- provide a gateway for the Obama campaign to connect with and to win over this important block of voters.