In This Forgotten Town, Obama Can Forget About It

McKeesport, Pa. won't be changing for Barack Obama anytime soon.
McKeesport, Pa. won't be changing for Barack Obama anytime soon. (By Keith Srakocic -- Associated Press)
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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, April 22, 2008


This town was bitter before bitter was fashionable.

The Monongahela River Valley lost its steel mills in the '80s and, a quarter-century later, this sad town in the heart of the Mon Valley still hasn't recovered. Its downtown is a collage of crumbling buildings, and its once-proud landmark, the 102-year-old People's Union Bank Building, has signs in the window:

"Bank Repo Sale.

Excellent Deal.

Eight stories.

Priced to sell!"

It is, in short, just the sort of place Barack Obama was talking about when he said he wasn't getting the support of blue-collar workers of the industrial heartland because they "cling" to guns and religion out of economic bitterness. It is also the place Obama chose to visit on Monday night, on the eve of Tuesday's primary -- and the reception here explains why Obama, the national front-runner, is expected to lose Pennsylvania.

"I don't care too much for Obama," Maria Norgren, the daughter and granddaughter of steelworkers, said in the parking lot of the Giant Eagle shopping center here, near the Obama rally.

"I don't even think he's American," added her husband, Edward, who lost his job when the steel mills closed and now mans the counter at the Puff Discount Tobacco and Lottery shop next to the Giant Eagle.

"His father's from Nigeria, right?" asked Maria, wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt.

Kenya, actually. But the point is the same: The Norgrens, who backed Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, will vote for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. And if Obama wins the nomination, these Democrats say they'll vote for Republican John McCain, even though they want an end to the war in Iraq, where their soldier-son is about to start his third tour.

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