- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Barack Obama predicted today that Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton would get the critical victory she needs in tomorrow’s Pennsylvania primary, but said his goal is to keep it close.

“I’m not predicting a win,” he told Pittsburgh radio station KDKA. “I’m predicting it’s going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect.”

Clinton aides tried to downplay expectations, insisting they would be grateful for a single-digit win. While the New York senator began the race with a hefty 20-point lead in several polls in the state, Obama’s extensive campaigning and heavy ad buy have significantly cut into Clinton’s lead.

She told supporters in Scranton, “We really need to bear down in these last few days. The whole world is watching.”

Clinton was hoping a big win could boost her chance at the nomination. A loss would increase pressure on her to exit the race, with Obama leading in delegates and the popular vote.

Pennsylvania is the largest of the 10 contests remaining, with about 4 million registered Democrats and 158 delegates up for grabs in the primary.

The demographics suit Clinton. The state has a higher median age, a higher percentage of whites, a lower median household income and fewer bachelor’s degrees than the country overall. These are the voters — working-class whites and voters older than 50 — who have flocked to her in past contests.

There are some encouraging signs as well for Obama. Thousands of new voters have registered for the primary. The largest bounce has been in Centre County, home to Penn State, and Obama tends to fair best among college students.

“We’ve run a tough race here in Pennsylvania,” he said in the radio interview. “Senator Clinton obviously was heavily favored. She was up 20. And you know, we’ve just been trying to chip away.”

The two candidates had packed schedules on the eve of the contest. It comes after a six-week break in voting allowed them to spend more time in Pennsylvania than in any state since the primaries and caucuses began at the first of the year.

Both candidates planned final appearances in Pennsylvania’s largest urban centers — Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Both also had extensive national schedules, taping interviews with all the network morning shows to be aired tomorrow. Clinton also scheduled to appear this evening on MSNBC’s “Countdown” and CNN’s “Larry King Live,” while Obama planned to be on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

Clinton also released a new television ad summarizing her closing argument. “It’s the toughest job in the world,” an announcer says as images throughout history air on the screen — the stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Soviet threat, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina.

“You need to be ready for anything, especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis. Harry Truman said it best, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ Who do you think has what it takes?” the announcer says at the end, as an image of Clinton at a rally appears. Obama’s campaign said the ad appealed to people’s fears.

Both candidates started the day in Scranton, a heavily Democratic working-class area of northeast Pennsylvania that is struggling economically.

Clinton held a rally and touted her local roots — her father was born and buried in Scranton and her grandfather worked in a local lace mill for 35 years.

As the crowd chanted “One Day to Victory!” and “Madam President!” Clinton urged supporters to go to the polls. One yelled out, “We got your back, Hillary!”

She replied, “I appreciate your having my back. As your president, I’ll have your back.”

One mile north, Obama got an order of waffles and sausage and at least one more vote at the Glider Diner. Larry Perry, a 57-year-old Vietnam veteran from New Milford, pressed Obama on what he would do for troops returning from Iraq.

“You want my vote? Let’s hear it,” Perry said. Obama gave a quick outline of his proposals, including opening more Veterans Affairs clinics.

“He convinced me,” Perry said afterward. “I liked what he said. I’m tired of the Clintons. I’m tired of the Bushes.”

Nedra Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Scranton, Pa., contributed to this report.

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