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5 Answers About Obama's Gaffe

By Mark Davis

I've released my vise-grip on my rifle and my Bible long enough to address five questions about the current Barack Obama "bitter" imbroglio: 1. What was so awful about what he said?

It seemed to characterize voters who cherish faith and gun rights as somehow mentally unhinged, seeking desperate solace anywhere in the midst of rough economic times. This is a colossal insult to a wide spectrum of voters who want Mr. Obama to know that their visits to church or the pistol range are not a frenzied attempt to drown economic sorrows, but a proud, conscious choice they would make in good times or bad.

2. How badly is Obama hurt by this?

Right now, a little. Later on, perhaps a lot. Any chance he had of closing the gap further and winning the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday is now gone. But remember, most of his intended audience at this point is a Democratic Party that is so radically secular and anti-gun that he may not have ruffled too many feathers in the base.

The biggest egg he has laid is among independent voters, a vast and ideologically vague landscape that will seriously consider his candidacy and John McCain's come November. Some of those people may be churchgoing hunters who are not all that conservative and who might have been willing to consider Mr. Obama - until he gave them the back of his hand at a San Francisco fundraiser packed with Nancy Pelosi's hardcore, limousine-liberal constituents.

3. Why does the location and guest list for the April 6 remarks matter?

Because the imagery could not be more delicious - for an Obama opponent. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain want to position themselves as more palatable to middle America than Mr. Obama, who is fresh off a bloody month of trying to disinfect himself from the diseased rhetorical legacy of a bigoted preacher he does not have the guts to disavow.

As Mr. Obama stood before a San Francisco gathering that views churchgoing and gun-owning as silly affectations for less enlightened people, his razor-sharp instinct for resonating with a crowd backfired. This revealed a weakness that would haunt any candidate, even one with his mighty gift for oratory: the inability to temper what the room wants to hear with the knowledge that those outside the room will hear it, too.

4. Will the elitism charges stick, or will Mr. Obama get a pass?

"Free pass" has become hard to define. Do we say he got one in the Jeremiah Wright scandal simply because his campaign was not brought to its knees? I suggest not. In November, plenty of voters will remember his clumsy tap-dance around his former pastor's perverse radicalism and wonder if the candidate is as mainstream as he'd like us to believe.

Similarly, while this story will not last much beyond this week, that doesn't mean moderate voters of faith who might actually own a firearm or two will not recall in November how he maligned them in April.

5. How should Hillary Clinton take advantage of this in tonight's Pennsylvania debate?

Boldly, but with surgical precision. We have heard her take Mr. Obama to task for being out of touch with small-town voters, and that was good. Beating on him with that same stick tonight will make it appear it's the only weapon she has (which might arguably be true).

Nonetheless, she should make the case that of the Democrats who actually go to church and own guns - and there are more in Pennsylvania than most other states - she is the only candidate who truly respects them (which might arguably be false).

Ultimately, in a week where there have been stories that Mrs. Clinton believes a haughty neophyte like Mr. Obama would be steamrolled by John McCain, it might be time for her to actually say so.

What does she have to lose?

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.

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