- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton scored a hard-fought victory in Pennsylvania’s primary last night, thwarting Sen. Barack Obama’s efforts to oust her from the Democratic race and strengthening her argument to the party faithful that her rival has been unable to win battleground states key to defeating Republicans in the fall election.

Mrs. Clinton built her nearly 10-point victory on the strength of blue-collar workers, gun owners, women, seniors and a surprisingly large number of voters who said race played a role in their choice, exit polls showed.

Her campaign immediately sought to seize new momentum going into the last nine contests before Democrats choose their nominee in Denver this summer with neither candidate able to win the required number of delegates. Despite the convincing win, Mrs. Clinton did not score significant gains in delegates, leaving Mr. Obama with more than a 100-delegate lead.

But Mr. Obama’s loss in the last big-state primary of the season gave Clinton supporters a rallying point for the final stretch of primaries.

Mrs. Clinton, who led 55 percent to 45 percent with most precincts reporting, said the “tide is turning” in the race.

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“He broke every spending record in this state trying to knock us out of the race. Well the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas,” she said at the victory party in the grand ballroom of the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue.

She used the occasion and the free airtime on network and cable TV to make a plea for contributions, saying, “Tonight, more than ever, I need your help to continue.”

Mr. Obama enjoys a huge cash advantage, carrying little debt and outraising her $136.4 million to $76.5 million since January. Mrs. Clinton reportedly is running about $1 million in debt heading into the next contests in Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks.

At a rally in Evansville, Ind., Mr. Obama chastised his supporters who booed the mention of Mrs. Clinton, and said his candidacy represents “real people” not Washington insiders — a veiled shot at his opponent.

“There were a lot of folks who didn”t think we could make this a close race when it started; they thought we were going to be blown out,” Mr. Obama said, adding he felt the campaign “worked hard” in Pennsylvania. “We closed the gap. We rallied people of every age and race and background to our cause.”

Mr. Obama had predicted that Mrs. Clinton would win Pennsylvania, but by a margin too small to threaten his lead in nominating delegates and the popular vote. His campaign insisted that anything less than a double-digit win would be a disappointing finish for Mrs. Clinton, who came into the Keystone State last month with a 20-point advantage.

Before the Pennsylvania contest, Mr. Obama had a nearly 704,000-vote lead in the popular vote from past primaries and had 1,648 delegates to Mrs. Clinton’s 1,508, according to an Associated Press tally.

Mrs. Clinton, who greeted voters in the morning at a polling site in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, said her victory would put the onus on Mr. Obama to explain why he can’t “close the deal” with a decisive win in a big state like Pennsylvania.

Mr. Obama outspent Mrs. Clinton by as much as 3-to-1 in the state on a blitz of TV ads, radio spots, mailers and robocalls that were credited with eating away Mrs. Clinton’s once-formidable advantage in Pennsylvania, where she has family ties and a close relationship with the political establishment.

The Clinton campaign argues that superdelegates, who likely will decide the nomination, should back Mrs. Clinton because she prevailed in must-win states for general election — Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania — that make her the stronger candidate to face presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

An Obama campaign memo dismissed the Clinton victory, calling it a “fundamentally unchanged race.”

The campaign noted that the 158 delegates at stake yesterday are nearly matched by the 157 delegates up for grabs in North Carolina, where polls favor Mr. Obama, and Indiana, where poll numbers show a dead heat.

Neither candidate is expected to win the 2,025 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, leaving the party’s superdelegates to decide the race.

“We are already organizing vigorously in the remaining contests, opening local offices, canvassing, and engaging voters in this unprecedented campaign,” an earlier Obama memo said. “We will have the financial resources we need to be competitive. Our message will be the same one that Senator Obama enunciated 14 months ago and has shared with voters every day since: that the size of the challenges we face has outgrown the smallness of our politics, and this election is our chance to change that.”

The Pennsylvania contest grew brutal during the six-week run from Mississippi’s March 11 primary to yesterday’s vote, with the campaigns saturating the airwaves with attack ads and trading accusations of misleading voters and stooping to dirty political tactics.

The acrimony spilled over from the campaigns to voters.

CNN said its analysis of exit polls showed that only half of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said they would vote for Mr. Obama in November if he’s the nominee and that only two-thirds of Mr. Obama’s supporters would vote for her.

The exit polls found that Mrs. Clinton won moderate voters overwhelmingly, while Mr. Obama won self-identified liberal voters. Mrs. Clinton also won among union households, gun owners and regular churchgoers.

Among the voters, 10 percent said they switched their party registration to be able to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, and Mr. Obama won more than 60 percent of those switchers.

Voters were also more likely to blame Mrs. Clinton for launching unfair attacks.

The split also was apparent among voters who said race was a factor in their vote — about one in five voters yesterday. Of those, 59 percent voted for Mrs. Clinton, and among white voters who said race was important, Mrs. Clinton won 75 percent.

On the Republican side, Mr. McCain picked up the state’s delegates, easily topping former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. McCain, and Rep. Ron Paul, who — while still running — has shifted his campaign into a lower gear.

Republican voters last night said the bitter battle is affecting the schedule in the Senate, where Democratic leaders have decided to close down the chamber for most of today until Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton return. Democrats want them to vote to stop a filibuster of a bill to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on when plaintiffs may sue for pay discrimination.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Obama told reporters in Pennsylvania that the state’s voters would rally behind him when he wins the nomination.

“The polling shows we can win no matter what the results” of the nominating race, he said. “When I’m the nominee, Ed Rendell is going to be working for me just as hard as he’s been working for Senator Clinton. There’s going to be a clear contrast between the economic message of the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Mr. Rendell, Pennsylvania governor and a popular political figure in the state, endorsed and campaigned relentlessly for Mrs. Clinton.

The campaign trail through Pennsylvania was fraught with dust-ups and gaffes.

Mr. Obama weathered criticism for his longtime relationship with his church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose racist sermons from the pulpit were denounced by the candidate, although he said he would not sever his ties to the minister.

He also suffered a barrage of ridicule for sounding like an elitist when he said at a private San Francisco fundraiser that “bitter” small-town voters in Pennsylvania did not support him because they “cling” to guns, religion and anti-immigrant attitudes.

When he complained about being peppered with debate question on these topics last week, the Clinton campaign added insult to injury by saying it showed that he wasn’t tough enough to handle White House pressures.

Mrs. Clinton also stumbled in Pennsylvania.

She was caught exaggerating about a 1996 trip to war-torn Bosnia as first lady, saying she dodged sniper fire at the Tuzla airport. But news footage of the visit showed her strolling across the tarmac.

She later demoted her top strategist, lobbyist Mark Penn, after it was revealed that he was helping the Colombian government pursue a trade deal with the United States that Mrs. Clinton opposes.

NEXT UP

Nine states and territories have yet to hold Democratic presidential contests. Here are the details for these races:

•May 3

Guam caucus

At stake: 4 Democratic delegates

2004: The territory does not cast electoral votes for president.

•May 6

Indiana primary

At stake: 72 Democratic delegates

2004: President Bush won the state with 60 percent of the vote in the presidential election.

North Carolina primary

At stake: 115 Democratic delegates

2004: Mr. Bush won the state with 56 percent.

•May 13

West Virginia primary

At stake: 28 Democratic delegates

2004: Mr. Bush won the state with 56 percent.

•May 20

Kentucky primary

At stake: 51 Democratic delegates

2004: Mr. Bush won the state with 60 percent.

Oregon primary

At stake: 52 Democratic delegates

2004: Sen. John Kerry won the state with 52 percent.

• June 1

Puerto Rico primary

At stake: 55 Democratic delegates

2004: The territory does not cast electoral votes for president.

•June 3

Montana primary

At stake: 16 Democratic delegates

2004: Mr. Bush won the state with 59 percent.

South Dakota primary

At stake: 15 Democratic delegates

2004: Mr. Bush won the state with 60 percent.

Associated Press

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