11/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Deer Hunting With Democrats

Much has been surmised about white working-class voters in this election. After the Democratic primaries, in which lower-income whites broke heavily for Hillary, the conventional wisdom in DC was that many of those folks would migrate to McCain. And, surely, some did. But Obama never gave up on them, campaigning over the summer in parts of the country that Democrats hadn't been seen in for decades -- a central part of his strategy from the start. And, so, he started making some gains with them.

But then something happened that even the smartest campaign couldn't predict -- the financial crisis flooded the election and unmoored conventional wisdom in both DC and those long-neglected parts of the country. An LA Times/Bloomberg poll released yesterday has Obama attracting 52% of white, working-class voters in Ohio. McCain has 38%. Why? Listen to the words of Theresa Riddle, a 48-year-old Republican from Springfield, OH, who took part in the poll: "Barack Obama understands Joe the Plumber better than John McCain... When John McCain talks about the economy, he says nothing."

In more steady economic times, perhaps cultural "wedge" issues -- the types that Palin is supposed to embody -- would weigh more heavily on these voters. Obviously, these are not such times, McCain is inarticulate about the economy, and the Republican brand is more tarnished than it has been in decades. Given these extraordinary circumstances, Democrats would be foolish to draw too many conclusions about how this year's trend with white working-class voters might affect future years.

After all, voters, who are becoming increasingly independent, may switch around from year to year. But story lines die hard. This became apparent to me after spending an afternoon with Joe Bageant, author of the brilliant book Deer Hunting With Jesus, who's dedicated the last few years of his life to writing about his friends and family members in white, working-class Virginia. One of his insights, which the following video opens with, is particularly relevant here: "There were a time when good Democrats were down there on the line getting their nose broken with labor when it was doing strikes and things back in another era... And they forgot about those people... At some point, the Democratic Party became the hobby of the Westchester Country Club."

Note to Democrats: Regardless of what happens on Election Day, you might, so to speak, have to get your noses broken on the line if you truly want to pull these people back into your camp.

Check out the interview: