- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Every little bit counts: As they vie in the last of the big Democratic presidential primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is besting Sen. Barack Obama, at least in the sympathy arena.

If she loses today’s Pennsylvania primary, much of the public hopes the New York senator will gut it out and stay in the race. Support for Mr. Obama, however, was not so apparent. Many deemed his recent remarks about the bitterness of small-town folks as an insult rather than campaign-trail blather, according to a Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports survey released today.

Overall, almost half of the respondents — 46 percent — said Mrs. Clinton should continue her quest for the White House no matter what happens in the Keystone State. A sex- and age-driven dynamic seems to be at work. The sentiment was most pronounced among women under 40, with 60 percent saying she should stay in the race. Fifty-three percent of those under 30 agreed.

Almost an equal number of Republicans and Democrats — 47 percent and 46 percent, respectively — also said Mrs. Clinton should continue.

Thirty-nine percent overall said she should abandon her campaign if she loses; the number was 53 percent among those ages 31 to 39 and 45 percent among blacks.

“Such lesser issues can tip the balance for voters when they get in the poll booth. Short-term concerns can make a difference,” said Daniel Wirls, professor of politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

“The length of this campaign has influence, though. Pennsylvania voters have had months to think about the candidates. It not like New Hampshire and Iowa, with voting right out of the gate,” said Mr. Wirls, adding he’s not surprised Republicans and Democrats had equal support for Mrs. Clinton.

“If she stays in, that could end up helping [Sen.] John McCain,” he said, referring to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, “bittergate” continues.

In a fundraising speech April 6, Mr. Obama of Illinois called the blue-collar class “bitter” — clinging to guns, religion and their distrust of outsiders for comfort in tough economic times. The notion was seized upon by his critics, not to mention Mrs. Clinton’s campaign strategists. He apologized and stepped up his references to down-home values The gaffe initially appeared not to undermine his popularity.

Perhaps, though, disapproval is growing.

The survey found that 40 percent considered the remark was an insult, compared with 33 percent who called it “campaign rhetoric.” Seventeen percent said the statement was “right on the mark,” while 9 percent were unsure.

The partisan divide is substantial: 51 percent of Republicans said it was an insult, compared with 29 percent of Democrats. They were almost equal — 30 percent and 31 percent — as to whether bitter talk was rhetoric.

“The controversy has tempered things for Obama,” Mr. Wirls said. “It brought him down to earth.”

The survey at least had some good news for the press — though not for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and his ilk. Three-quarters of the respondents said they got more insight about the presidential candidates from the news media than they did from late-night talk-show hosts and comedians.

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