Clinton Strengths Aren't Lost on The Obama Team

Both of the Democratic presidential candidates mobilized their supporters in Pennsylvania as soon as the votes were counted this week in Ohio and Texas.
Both of the Democratic presidential candidates mobilized their supporters in Pennsylvania as soon as the votes were counted this week in Ohio and Texas. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
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By Anne E. Kornblut and Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 7, 2008

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are mounting campaign efforts in Pennsylvania on a scale not seen since the Iowa caucuses, even as the Obama campaign attempts to cast the April 22 contest as just another in a string of more than a dozen to go.

Almost immediately after results showed Clinton winning Texas and Ohio on Tuesday night, the campaigns began mobilizing their supporters in Pennsylvania and plotting strategies to win votes across the large, delegate-rich state. Clinton will arrive full of momentum in a state whose demographics set up for her even more favorably than Ohio's, while the Obama campaign will come armed with a sizable money advantage after announcing yesterday that it raised a record $55 million in February.

"It's Iowa on steroids," said T.J. Rooney, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and a Clinton backer. "There are a lot of Democrats today who are like the dog who caught the mail truck. They finally caught it; now they don't know what to do."

Senior Obama advisers sought to play down the importance of Pennsylvania, which is full of the same kind of white, working-class voters who supported Clinton in Ohio and other states that she won. Pennsylvania also has more senior citizens than Ohio, which favors Clinton as well.

"We're going to campaign hard in Pennsylvania," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager. "It's a big, important state. We have a lot of support there. We're going to try to do as well as we can, get as many votes and delegates. They want to just say it's about this next big state. Our view is, we've got to look at the whole picture, which is 611 delegates are left. This is ultimately about the delegate math."

Plouffe noted that Clinton's slim victories in the March 4 contests could represent a smaller net gain in delegates than Obama got by overwhelmingly winning Idaho on Feb. 5, thanks to the Democrats' proportional allocation. The Obama campaign hopes to start winning back those delegates in contests in Wyoming tomorrow and Mississippi on Tuesday, while notching victories after Pennsylvania in smaller places such as Indiana and West Virginia.

"We're not a believer in symbolic wins," Plouffe said. "We have a strategy to win the nomination. And we just have to continue getting as many delegates and votes as we can, from wherever we can."

Senior Obama advisers said they learned a hard lesson about managing expectations ahead of their defeat in Texas, where they had anticipated doing better. Rather than accepting the notion that Pennsylvania will be decisive, they plan to play down their chances in the Keystone State and keep their focus on states such as North Carolina, where they expect to win.

Aside from a demographic advantage, Clinton will have the support of several state Democratic leaders, including Gov. Edward G. Rendell. "He's very engaged, and that's really important," Rooney said. "He brings a fundraising machine like no other. He brings the influence of his office and a large political following."

The state party's executive director, Mary Isenhour, is also in the Clinton camp and will run Clinton's Pennsylvania operation. Another key Clinton backer is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who will try to help her offset Obama's advantage in a city that will be critical to his performance in the state. Former president Bill Clinton was scheduled to make campaign stops in Philadelphia and its suburbs today.

"We operate from the assumption that Pennsylvania is Clinton country," said Mark Nevins, Clinton's state spokesman. Nevins, who joined the campaign two weeks ago, said Clinton's operation essentially mirrors what Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) had in place four years ago when he beat President Bush in Pennsylvania.

"We can build a team here that is unbeatable," Nevins said. "Even if the other side runs more television ads or sends more mailings, they can't beat us on the ground. We've got the support of the people that control the infrastructure here in the state. We've got that institutional structure that can deliver people on Election Day."

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