Brand Obama bruised in Pennsylvania. Rocker Mellencamp stumps with Obama Tuesday night in Indiana.

SHARE Brand Obama bruised in Pennsylvania. Rocker Mellencamp stumps with Obama Tuesday night in Indiana.

No matter what happens in Pennsylvania, John Mellencamp will join Obama in Evansville, Indiana Tuesday night at a rally in the state with May 6 vote.

(Below is my column from the Tuesday print Chicago Sun-Times)

PHILADELPHIA — The Obama team has always been very conscious and protective of the Sen. Barack Obama “brand.” After a tough Pennsylvania contest, Obama’s brand is bruised. Obama is not as pristine as he once was. He’s had to deal with a series of controversies and he’s gone negative against Sen. Hillary Clinton — as she has attacked him.

In this historic election, Obama’s high pedestal was cut down a few feet in Pennsylvania, his hardest fight so far.

Some of the most dramatic chapters of the Obama campaign, launched February 2007, have occurred just these past weeks in Pennsylvania.

Last month, over at The Constitution Center, near Independence Hall, Obama delivered a speech on race and inflammatory comments from his controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright still lingers as a general election issue should Obama be the Democratic nominee. His speech could be a plus long term.

The question of whether Obama is an “elitist” was raised after he said at a San Francisco fund-raiser that some in small-town Pennsylvania were “bitter” and so they “cling” to God and guns. In Altoona, Obama went bowling to get in touch with his inner blue collar — even though it’s not his sport. He rolled a gutter ball. But that’s not all bad; the footage did not end up as a metaphor for his campaign and the humiliation factor was minor.

During the debate last week, questions about Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground member/Chicago educator, pushed the story into the mainstream press. But the Obama team shut the guilt-by-association problem down — for now, at least — by bringing up pardons President Bill Clinton handed to Weather Underground members.

With all this, Obama returned to the park area near the Constitution Center on Friday night to rally a crowd of 35,000. Democratic registration in Philadelphia and its suburbs is soaring.

One of Obama’s closing ads hits Clinton on her health care plan and goes too far in claiming she will garnish wages to help pay for health insurance. But the Obama ad is a conventional political response, not quite the “brand” image.

“They made a very serious choice that will have long-standing consequences to put their brand at stake in order to try to deliver this knockout blow, that they’ve been campaigning about this — you know, with this notion of politics of hope. I don’t think that that’s how they’ve behaved,” said Clinton strategist Geoff Garin.

Said Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs, “We don’t take brand advice from the Clinton campaign.”

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