This week it's been called the new Iowa or even New Hampshire, but Hillary Clinton's campaign is hoping Pennsylvania, which has demographics and a rust-belt history similar to the Buckeye State's, can simply be the next Ohio.
One hundred fifty-eight delegates are at stake for Clinton in the Keystone State's suddenly significant April 22 primary, the most of any single state left. And a win would give her another burst of momentum (and the delegates) to help her attempt to defeat Barack Obama. But can Pennsylvania, with its big urban centers like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and an expansive "Alabama" in between, as James Carville said, deliver to Clinton another Texas and Ohio-like boost?
"It certainly looks like fertile ground for her," says Steven Peterson, a professor of politics at Penn State-Harrisburg.
As in Ohio, she's ahead in the early polls, but not by the same large margins. She has picked up the endorsement of another popular Democratic governor, swapping Ohio's Ted Strickland for Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell. Also like neighboring Ohio, the state has an array of urban and rural voters. Unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania hosts a closed primary, with voter registration ending March 24. This could help Clinton, since rival Barack Obama has done well with independent voters.
And the demographics suit her. Pennsylvania is old. The state has the second-oldest population after Florida, a perk for Clinton, who has consistently performed well with older voters—especially older women. It is also predominantly white. The Hispanic population, which makes up less than 5 percent overall, is about double Ohio's, also boding well for Clinton, who has attracted the majority of Democratic Hispanic primary voters. But about 10 percent of the population is black, and this demographic has trended heavily toward Obama.
In Ohio, Clinton picked up a majority of the union member vote. And labor unions are even stronger in Pennsylvania, says University of Pittsburgh political science Prof. Susan Hansen. Obama has picked up several prominent national union endorsements, such as one from the Service Employees International Union. However, the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers has yet to endorse either Clinton or Obama. This prominent Pennsylvania union had originally supported John Edwards.
The economy issue played well with voters in Ohio and may have won the white male vote for Clinton, a segment that she lost to Obama in Virginia and Wisconsin. The same themes could influence Pennsylvanians as they share with Ohioans an annoyance with NAFTA as well as the demise of manufacturing, says Peterson. But targeting white male voters specifically could be a wild card, Hansen warns, because many white men in Pennsylvania are antiabortion and vote Republican.
Despite the state's looking very Clinton-friendly, Obama has financial resources that could mitigate these demographic factors. He'll be able to saturate the media in areas with students and younger voters, where he does best. And he has seven weeks to make his case. "My own sense is that it's likely to be a very competitive state, as Ohio was," Peterson says.
If Chelsea Clinton's appearance at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia a day after her mother's campaign-saving wins in Texas and Ohio is any sign of what's to come, Pennsylvanians are going to be slammed with the trifecta of campaigning Clintons and the entire Obama lot too. And they won't know what hit them. The last time Pennsylvania mattered in a presidential primary was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the state and thus won the Democratic nomination. Although this time around, while Pennsylvania will set the tone of what's to come in this bruising nomination battle, because of the tight race for delegates, it won't push either candidate over the top.