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Analysis: Obama could get mileage from NASCAR

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Barack Obama may sponsor a car in a NASCAR race, reports
  • Sponsoring a car would be part of Obama's 50-state strategy
  • Other candidates and political parties have sponsored cars in past
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By Mark Preston
CNN Political Editor
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The political and sporting worlds collided Friday afternoon when CNN's sister publication, Sports Illustrated, reported that Sen. Barack Obama is considering sponsoring a car in a NASCAR race next month.

Oh, but not any NASCAR event. Obama's name could whiz by at speeds of 150 to 200 mph before 100,000 or more fans at Pocono Raceway in the electoral rich state of Pennsylvania (21 votes).

You might remember that Obama lost Pennsylvania to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, a defeat that was seen as another example of his problem with attracting support from so-called blue-collar, white voters.

Obama has vowed to run a 50-state campaign with a specific emphasis on states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Indiana. It is fair to say that these three states have a healthy share of white, blue-collar NASCAR and Indy racing fans.

Should Obama decide to sponsor a car, it would certainly be a novel idea, but not a new one. Political junkies will remember that Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham plastered his name across the side of a truck in 2003 that ran in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Graham was successful in his efforts to gain attention, but failed in his bid for the White House.

But isn't exposure what this is all about? If Obama decides to do it, he will get great media attention for entering the world of NASCAR, and not just from the pack of political journalists following the race -- that is, the race for the White House. He'd also get attention from sports reporters and commentators who cover the race -- that is, auto racing. It's not a bad way to reach out to voters who may not be following the campaign daily.

Last year, the Conservative Party of Canada sponsored a car in the Canadian Tire NASCAR Series. At the time, Jim Flaherty, a Conservative Party member of Parliament, acknowledged that emblazoning his party's political logo across the hood of a race car was a way to reach out to voters.

"The Conservative Party supports Canadians that work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules, and those are the same Canadians that watch sports like NASCAR," Flaherty said.

I suspect that Obama's campaign is thinking the same thing.

Oh, and by the way, Obama won't be the only name racing in race fans' minds. Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is sending his wife, Cindy, to Tennessee this weekend for the Firestone 200 IndyCar Race at the Nashville Superspeedway.

We haven't heard much about NASCAR dads this election cycle. I suspect that is about to change.

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