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Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania keeps her campaign afloat

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton embraces her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, Tuesday night at a rally in Philadelphia. Clinton’s win keeps her chances to win the Democratic nomination for president alive, but she trails Sen. Barack Obama in fundraising.

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton embraces her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, Tuesday night at a rally in Philadelphia. Clinton’s win keeps her chances to win the Democratic nomination for president alive, but she trails Sen. Barack Obama in fundraising.

Pennsylvania's blue-collar workers backed her. White voters, seniors and Catholics backed her. But Hillary Rodham Clinton's convincing victory over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania's primary Tuesday keeps her on an unlikely path to winning the Democratic nomination.

With 95 percent of precincts tallied, the New York senator was leading with 55 percent of the vote. The question now is whether a 10-point win is enough to give Clinton a burst of momentum— and an infusion of campaign checks — to roar forward and keep uncommitted superdelegates from jumping to Obama.

"It's a long road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and it runs right through the heart of Pennsylvania," Clinton said before cheering supporters in Philadelphia. "Some people counted me out and said to drop out. Well, the American people don't quit, and they deserve a president who doesn't quit either. … You made your voices heard, and because of you, the tide is turning."

It looked unlikely that Clinton's Pennsylvania success would significantly erode Obama's pledged delegate lead of about 160. Obama's stronghold around Philadelphia stood to deliver a big share of the state's 158 delegates.

The next big test comes May 6 in North Carolina, where Obama is heavily favored, and Indiana, which stands to be another must-win for the former first lady.

Clinton faces a daunting financial advantage by the Illinois senator. At the end of March, Obama had $42-million on hand, while Clinton had $9-million cash and $10.3-million in debt, including $4.6-million to her demoted former chief strategist, Mark Penn.

The message on her Web site Tuesday night: "Thank you, Pennsylvania; keep the momentum going! Contribute $5 below."

"At some point, the decision on whether or not to go on is made for you — either by the math or by the money," said Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance chairman. "From the reports I saw, it becomes awfully hard to run a campaign in states if you don't have the money to put on television, put the staff on the ground and communicate with voters your message."

Despite the hurdles remaining, Clinton's win bolstered her argument that she's the stronger choice for Democrats wanting to win crucial electoral college states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Exit polls for the Associated Press and television networks offered plenty of ammunition for her allies to maintain that she's more appealing to voters that will be key in November:

• Two out of three white voters without college degrees backed Clinton over Obama, and two of three white voters with household incomes below $50,000 backed Clinton.

• While nine in 10 African-Americans backed Obama, Clinton has the support of nearly seven in 10 Catholic voters and two out of three voters over 65.

"Hillary is proving again that she can win these big states necessary to win in November," said former Florida Democratic party executive director Ana Cruz of Tampa, a Clinton backer. "Unless Barack Obama has some new electoral map that says he can win the presidential election winning all these small red states, I don't see it happening in November."

The Keystone State primary ended a six-week lull since the last contest, a period that saw the primary grow increasingly negative and both candidates face serious controversies.

For Clinton, there were exaggerations about sniper fire she said she faced in Bosnia and revelations that her former chief strategist, Penn, had planned to work with the Colombian government in seeking passage of a free trade agreement that she opposes.

For Obama, there were anti-American comments by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his suggestion in a closed San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Americans cling to the issues of guns and religion because bitterness over their economic hardships.

That latter comment did not help Obama among such voters. About six in 10 Pennsylvania gun owners, people who attend church at least weekly, and rural residents backed Clinton, according to exit polls.

Speaking in Evansville, Ind., Obama congratulated Clinton, noted how he closed the gap and, sounding like the inevitable nominee, depicted Republican John McCain as a continuation of the George W. Bush administration.

"We're not here to talk about change for change's sake, but because our families and our communities and our country desperately need it," Obama said at a rally. "We are here because we can't afford to keep doing what we've been doing for another four years. We can't afford to play the same Washington games with the same Washington players and expect a different result. Not this time. Not now."

Second only to Florida in seniors, Pennsylvania was always viewed as a Clinton stronghold. Mid March polls showed her enjoying a double-digit lead, and Obama fought hard to cut that lead and drive the Clinton campaign nearly broke trying to keep up. Obama spent an estimated $11-million on television ads in Pennsylvania from March 18 to April 16, while Clinton spent $4.5-million.

"At some point you have to play an away game, and Pennsylvania was like a home game for her. She had every mechanism behind her," said Wagar of the Obama campaign, noting that Clinton had such prominent backers as Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha behind her.

The Clinton campaign is still intent on trying to convince uncommitted superdelegates that they can hand her the nomination even if she lags behind Obama in elected delegates.

Part of the argument is her success in key swing states. And Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe was arguing Tuesday night that she might still beat Obama in popular votes, at least when people factor in her 300,000 vote advantage in Florida's officially meaningless Jan. 29 primary.

"By the time we finish this process, Hillary Clinton will move ahead in the popular vote," he said on MSNBC.

About a quarter of the day's voters reported having decided within the past week, and about six in 10 of them backed Clinton.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania keeps her campaign afloat 04/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 1:19pm]
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