Obama's Independents Problem

A focus group finds independent voters don't know much about Obama, despite all of his campaigning.

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A new focus group finds that independent voters who haven't cast ballots in the presidential primaries but who will be a crucial bloc in the general election don't know much about Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, despite his many months of campaigning.

And they don't like much of what they have heard. "Obama has been defined to a large extent by his association with Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright [his controversial former pastor] or a narrative of his background to which they do not relate," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said.

Seven of the 12 focus-group participants believed that 0bama is a Muslim. He is, in fact, a Christian.

Hart said Obama needs to quickly define the stakes in the general election as he tries to lock up the nomination. "More important," Hart said, "he must introduce himself to American voters, particularly independents" who are "nervous or uncertain about him and what kind of president he would be."

The focus group was conducted in Charlottesville, Va., by Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The 12 participants split evenly in their presidential preference between Obama and Republican John McCain.

—Kenneth T. Walsh