- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

McKEESPORT, Pa. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dominated Ohio, squeaked out a win in the Texas primary and is looking for a solid victory today in Pennsylvania to keep superdelegates from breaking for her Democratic presidential rival and finally ending the nomination battle.

If she gets the big win, she’ll have more evidence for her claim that Sen. Barack Obama is unable to deliver in major swing states and, her team says, it will raise serious questions about his electability.

“It’s safe to say that, certainly, the superdelegates will have several questions for the Obama campaign if Senator Obama fails to be successful on Tuesday, considering the amount of resources they’ve expended on Pennsylvania,” said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.

But the size of Mrs. Clinton’s expected victory here today is more important than the win, and the tipping point for her viability for staying in the race ranges from a five-point to double-digit victory, depending on the source.

“If she gets a 20-point win, that would be impressive,” quipped Obama strategist David Axelrod, citing her one-time massive lead when the Pennsylvania campaign began.

Even though Mr. Obama, of Illinois, holds a lead in pledged delegates, the popular vote and in the number of states won through primaries and caucuses, about one-third of the party’s 795 superdelegates — state and local elected officials and party activists whose votes will help determine the nominee — have not backed a candidate.

Since he became the front-runner, Mr. Obama has scored dozens of superdelegate endorsements, but both campaigns believe the holdouts are waiting to see the results of today’s contest.

If Mrs. Clinton fails to get the big win, many Democrats believe the superdelegates will surge for Mr. Obama to end the divisive battle and unite to square off with presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.

But if she can pull ahead of Mr. Obama in the popular vote in the 10 remaining contests — a formidable task — even the superdelegates who have already said they would back her rival could justify changing their loyalty.

Mrs. Clinton often says Democrats should consider she has won more of the nation’s big states — including Massachusetts, New York and California — while Mr. Obama only won his home state of Illinois. But his backers deploy the counterargument that he puts more states in the West and South in play, and think Mr. Obama would be able in the general election to nab the big states she won, including her home state of New York.

Both campaigns said they are buckled down and preparing for the May 6 contests in North Carolina and Indiana, but a scheduled debate was canceled yesterday, with the North Carolina Democratic Party saying that in addition to scheduling issues there were “growing concerns about what another debate would do to party unity.”

But the Clinton team gave every indication it expects her to continue the fight. She issued a statement saying Mr. Obama’s refusal to agree to the North Carolina debate means he is avoiding voters and announced plans for four campaign stops Thursday in Indiana.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson wondered “just what will it take” for Mr. Obama to win a large swing state, adding he thinks it is obvious the senator is not aiming to just “do well,” but rather to win.

“He is trying to knock Senator Clinton out of the race,” Mr. Wolfson said.

The weeks since the last contest on March 11 in Mississippi — which Mr. Obama won overwhelmingly — have been marked with nasty campaigning and gaffes from each Democrat.

Mrs. Clinton was caught fabricating details of her trip to Bosnia as first lady, falsely saying several times that she landed under sniper fire. A tape of her ripping liberal group MoveOn.org during a private fundraiser also surfaced and drew ire from party activists.

But it’s been tougher for Mr. Obama, even though he has raised record sums since becoming the front-runner. His pastor’s anti-American sermons forced him to explain his ties to the church, and he was blasted for telling San Francisco supporters that some rural voters are “bitter” over economic dislocation and “cling” to guns and religion.

Mr. Singer said Mr. Obama’s electability claims have vanished in part because of those comments, adding that superdelegates are aware that state Republican parties already are using Mr. Obama’s remarks to go after down-ballot Democrats, something that would increase tenfold if Mr. Obama earns the nomination.

Both teams have devoted substantial resources to organizing in Pennsylvania.

The Obama campaign has worked to drive up turnout among his supporters in greater Philadelphia, a region so populous it could deliver him a slim statewide victory.

His supporters are cheered by record voter rolls, with more than 200,000 new Democrats registered for today’s primary.

They each lowered expectations yesterday.

Mr. Axelrod noted that when the campaign began, Clinton spokesman Mark Nevins said the former first lady was “unbeatable” here, even though he actually told a reporter, “We can build a team here that is unbeatable” and that even if the Obama camp outspends Mrs. Clinton, “they can’t beat us on the ground.”

Mr. Axelrod agreed that Mr. Obama faces a formidable challenge against Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s organizational strength on behalf of Mrs. Clinton. He made no predictions, even though Mr. Obama told a local radio station he was not expecting to win.

“We will have closed the gap with her,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Using planes, trains and automobiles, he’s been all over the state. That’s made things more competitive.”

He told reporters later, “I don’t think anybody expects us to win tomorrow.”

Clinton strategist Geoff Garin predicted yesterday that on June 3, after the final contest in the long Democratic race, the difference between his boss and Mr. Obama would be “very, very, very close,” leaving the superdelegates to “exercise their good judgment in good conscience.”

Polls suggested the most probable Pennsylvania finish tonight would be a narrow Clinton victory that allows each camp to say it did well, which fits right in with the muddled primary season and would mean the race may stretch into the summer as superdelegates decide.

That’s one reason Demo-cratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean demanded the remaining undecided superdelegates make their preferences known now.

In a hint as to what the campaigns expect from tonight’s results, Mrs. Clinton is planning a celebration in Philadelphia, while Mr. Obama will end the evening in Indiana.

The Clinton campaign said a blind item posted on the Drudge Report yesterday, claiming internal polls showed her with an 11-point lead in Pennsylvania, was false.

Mr. Garin insisted the report was “wrong” and said, “There’s no such data in the campaign.”

“We categorically deny” the report, Mr. Wolfson added, calling it “an obvious effort to raise our expectations falsely by somebody.”

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