Clinton keeps the race alive

But victory isn't big enough to cut into Obama's lead

Election 2008 Pennsylvania Primary

April 23, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton battled her way to another campaign-saving victory yesterday, stopping Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary but gaining little significant ground on the front-runner.

Her win meant that the Democratic presidential contest would continue for several weeks, possibly until the final primaries in early June

"Today, here in Pennsylvania, you made your voices heard," Clinton told supporters in Philadelphia. "And because of you, the tide is turning."

In a nod to the debts plaguing her candidacy, she delivered a plea for fresh contributions and said that "the future of this campaign is in your hands." Clinton was joined onstage by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, who made dozens of campaign appearances in the state.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but if you're ready, I'm ready," the New York senator said, casting herself as an underdog against a better-funded rival. "Now, I might stumble and I might get knocked down, but if you'll stand with me, I will always get back up."

The Obama campaign, in a memo to reporters late last night, said the race was "fundamentally unchanged." But Clinton's victory, by roughly a double-digit margin, kept her campaign alive and bought her time to raise new doubts about Obama's candidacy among the superdelegates who will decide the nomination.

Obama failed to get what he wanted from the longest and most expensive single-state campaign since Iowa in early January.

He had hoped to knock Clinton out of the race and build a connection with working-class whites. He outspent her substantially in a six-week campaign that brought him closer to voters than in other states and improved his showing among white men and seniors, but not by nearly enough to win.

"She ran a terrific race," Obama said in a concession speech that claimed to have "closed the gap" on Clinton's early polling lead in Pennsylvania. But Obama still lost by roughly the 10 points that he did in neighboring Ohio in early March.

For her part, Clinton needed a landslide to cut deeply into Obama's delegate lead and substantially narrow his advantage in the popular vote total, a measure she wants the party's superdelegates to consider in choosing a candidate. Based on partial returns, she fell short of that sort of lopsided victory, though she did cut Obama's lead by about 200,000 votes.

John McCain, who has wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, won easily in his party's primary.

Obama remains a heavy favorite to be the Democratic candidate against McCain in November. However, his increasing inability to win big swing states in the closing phase of the campaign is raising questions about the breadth of his appeal and about his chances in the general election.

Yesterday afternoon, during a visit to a South Philadelphia cheese steak emporium, Obama acknowledged that he couldn't claim victory simply by holding down Clinton's winning margin.

"If Senator Clinton gets over 50 percent, she's won the state. I don't try to pretend I enjoy getting 45 percent and that's a moral victory. We've lost the state," he told XM Radio's POTUS '08 channel at Pat's King of Steaks.

The next state primaries are May 6 in North Carolina and Indiana, and Obama was in Evansville, Ind., last night when the returns were coming in.

Clinton hoped to leave Pennsylvania with a large enough bulge in popular votes to impress the party's superdelegates and her own donors. Her last finance report showed that her campaign was in debt at the end of March, while Obama had $42 million to spend.

Clinton's campaign said just before midnight that it had raised nearly $2.5 million on election night and called it its "best night ever."

As expected, Clinton carried northeastern Pennsylvania, where her father was raised and she spent summers as a child, and ran extremely well in the more conservative central and western portions of the state, including the Pittsburgh area.

Her strong showing in those areas overcame Obama's lead in Philadelphia and its suburbs, which he took by substantial proportions but not as large as his campaign had hoped.

"The voters trust Hillary Clinton," her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, said in a television interview. "They think she'll do a better job of getting this economy straightened out. ... She's ready to be president."

Preliminary estimates indicated that the candidates would divide the state's 158 delegates roughly evenly, with Clinton gaining fewer than 20 delegates overall.

Going into the election, she trailed Obama by about 140 delegates. About 400 delegates will be allocated in the remaining contests, with party rules ensuring a proportional division that effectively makes it impossible for Clinton to finish ahead of Obama in delegates won in the primaries and caucuses.

After the final primaries, on June 3, either candidate would have to get votes from the roughly 300 undeclared superdelegates to win the nomination, with Clinton needing more than Obama.

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