Homestretch Frenzy

McCain pins hopes on Pennsylvania

Election 2008

November 03, 2008|By New York Times News Service

PHILADELPHIA - If Sen. John McCain defies the polls and wins Pennsylvania, it will be in part because of voters like Harry Klemash, 67, a Democrat who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primary and is still not comfortable with Sen. Barack Obama.

"Obama has too many socialist policies, and he doesn't have enough experience," Klemash, a retired pressman, said yesterday as he walked his miniature poodle in Marconi Park in South Philadelphia, a largely white, Catholic, ethnic neighborhood.

With the presidential election a day away, the polls point to an Obama victory in Pennsylvania, with Obama holding a big lead in Philadelphia. But the polls are tightening, and McCain has shown no signs of letting up in the state.

As the Republicans try to map situations in which McCain could pull off an upset, they are focusing on Philadelphia's mostly white enclaves.

"I'm spending a lot of time in Philadelphia," said Robert Gleason, the chairman of the state Republican Party.

"We're working the Northeast," he said, referring to a largely white part of the city.

"We've got values voters up there, Catholics. My people up there say they can carry four to six wards this year, and four years ago, they carried none," Gleason said.

While wealthier whites in Philadelphia, especially in Center City, overwhelmingly support Obama, some blue-collar Democrats never made the transition from supporting Clinton. In South Philadelphia, McCain signs have cropped up in the windows of the low brick houses and on the postage-stamp lawns.

"Hillary won some of those white wards by 10-1," said Shanin Specter, son of Pennsylvania's Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, and a lawyer who is steeped in local politics. "Obama is likely to significantly underperform Kerry and Gore in those white row-house wards."

The Obama campaign is fully aware of the challenge.

"This is a tough ward," said Paul Rossi, 61, a data processor who lives in the neighborhood and is helping out at an Obama office that opened Saturday not far from Marconi Park.

"It's a matter of convincing people culturally that they won't be harmed by Obama," Rossi said.

It is no accident that Sen. Joe Biden, Obama's running mate, is being dispatched to speak in Marconi Park tomorrow night for his final rally of the campaign. Biden, who is Catholic, was chosen in part to appeal to these white, blue-collar Catholics. Biden is to be joined by members of the Philadelphia Phillies, who just won the World Series.

There is no doubt that Obama, who won Philadelphia in the primary, will sweep the city again. But while it is a major part of the statewide puzzle, it is still only a piece.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania said yesterday that although he still expected Obama to win the state, he was "nervous" and had been on the phone "screaming at Chicago," meaning the Obama headquarters, to send reinforcements. Hillary Clinton is due in Pittsburgh today; former President Bill Clinton is to stump for Obama in Erie and elsewhere the same day.

Rendell agreed that because of the white wards, Obama might get a smaller percentage of the Philadelphia vote than Kerry did, perhaps 75 percent instead of Kerry's 80 percent. But with additional Democratic registrations, he said, and a bigger turnout, Obama would exceed Kerry's numbers.

Elsewhere in the state, McCain needs a big turnout in Central Pennsylvania and is making an incursion into the Scranton area.

In counterpoint to McCain's appeal there to Catholic Democrats, the Obama team yesterday sent in Caroline Kennedy.

Despite the frenzied last-minute campaigning and polls suggesting a tighter race, G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said he expected Obama to win the state by at least seven points.

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