Hillary Clinton's solid victory in Pennsylvania's Democratic presidential primary yesterday kept her campaign alive, but it also exposed both her vulnerabilities and the weaknesses of rival Barack Obama in a general election race.
Clinton won 55 percent of the vote to Obama's 45 percent, with 85 percent of the ballots counted—reinforcing her reputation for toughness and tenacity and demonstrating the appeal of her years of experience in Washington. Obama, meanwhile, showed resilience, perseverance, and the power of his message of change. But at the same time, the Pennsylvania campaign also underscored the negative side of each candidate—notably, the argument that Obama is weak with white voters and can't win the big swing states that will be crucial in the race against Republican John McCain, and the critique of Clinton as an untrustworthy tribune of a discredited status quo. These criticisms, which became part of the daily tug of war between the two rivals, will be potential ammunition for the Republicans this fall.
At a victory rally in Philadelphia last night, Clinton set aside her negativity and tried to be uplifting. She promised to be "a president who's ready to lead on Day 1," both as commander in chief and as manager of the economy. She promised to "fight for everyone who's ever been counted out....You know you can count on me to stand up strong for you every single day in the White House." Clinton added: "Because of you, the tide is turning."
For his part, Obama told a rally in Evansville, Ind., "We are here because we can't afford to keep doing what we've been doing for another four years" and called for an end to "the same old Washington game." He echoed his past criticisms of Clinton, without mentioning her by name, by saying the Democrats have two options: They can be the party that says or does anything to get elected, or with him they can work to regain the trust of the American people.
He also criticized McCain for representing a continuation of George W. Bush's policies on the economy, Iraq, and other major issues.
Despite Clinton's win, Obama comes out of Pennsylvania retaining a slim lead in delegates that will be difficult for Clinton to overcome. Obama now has an estimated 1,714.5 delegates (including superdelegates) to Clinton's 1,589.5, according to the Associated Press, with 2,025 needed for the nomination. Since the delegates in Pennsylvania were distributed proportionally and based on congressional districts, Clinton apparently made a net gain of about 20 to 30 over Obama, according to AP's preliminary analysis.
It's possible that when all the Pennsylvania returns are counted, Clinton will be virtually tied with Obama in popular votes—if the ballots from the disputed Florida and Michigan primaries, won by Clinton, are counted. The fate of those two states' delegates has not been decided by the Democratic National Committee.
Obama spent an estimated $11.2 million on TV ads in Pennsylvania, compared with Clinton's $4.8 million. Clinton, a senator from New York, is in debt, while Obama, a senator from Illinois, is flush with cash from his huge number of small donors. One of Clinton's big challenges now is to raise money as quickly as possible.
Clinton advisers say she will hammer home the themes that worked for her in Pennsylvania, especially that Obama is too inexperienced and untested to be president and that he can't defeat McCain. Clinton also plans to criticize Obama for refusing to debate her in North Carolina and Indiana, which hold primaries May 6. The Clinton team argues that Obama did poorly in the last debate, in Philadelphia last week, and he is afraid of making more stumbles. Obama's advisers say there have been enough debates and voters aren't clamoring for more.
Exit polls in Pennsylvania showed that Clinton did well among white voters, union members, seniors, gun owners, those who attend religious services regularly— especially Roman Catholics— and Pennsylvanians making less than $50,000 a year. Obama won voters with college degrees, the affluent, young people, city voters, and a huge majority of African-Americans.
Now the campaign moves to nine more contests, including the Guam caucuses May 3 and the primaries in Indiana and North Carolina May 6. Obama was favored in all three contests, but that was before Clinton won Pennsylvania and gained some momentum.
If the two candidates amass delegates in roughly equal measure from now on, as is possible, the final decision may be made by about 800 superdelegates—Democratic leaders, elected officials, and activists whose decisions on whom to support are based on their own judgments and aren't linked to the outcome of the primaries and caucuses.