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Obama Tries to Hold Off Favored Clinton in Pa.
The effect of such controversies was to force Obama to change course in recent days. After tough questions in a Wednesday debate here put him on his heels, Obama tacked away from his efforts to look past Clinton to a general-election battle with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), taking sharper aim at the senator from New York and what he calls her "slash-and-burn" tactics.
Clinton faced her own major distraction with her since-discredited claim that she came under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia as first lady. She was also slammed in recent days by liberals for criticizing the advocacy group MoveOn.org in her own closed-door fundraiser, when she said, "MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with."
Meanwhile, Obama aides sought in a conference call Saturday to keep the Bosnia story alive, with retired Maj. Gen. Walter Stewart accusing Clinton of lacking the "moral authority . . . to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier." A Clinton spokesman called that an "outrageous claim."
Both candidates -- as well as party leaders nervously watching as McCain assembles his general-election effort -- are working hard to come out of Tuesday's voting with momentum. The latest overall delegate count from the Associated Press had Obama leading 1,645 to 1,507, with 2,025 needed to claim the nomination.
"If it's an extremely positive day for Senator Clinton, it would mean that the fight for the nomination goes forward," said Rep. Chaka Fattah, an Obama supporter who represents Philadelphia. "If Obama does well beyond expectations in Pennsylvania, it really will be the beginning of the end of the process. But in all likelihood, it's going to be what we've seen in the past: It's going to be another step along the way."
While polls have suggested that the "bitter" controversy hasn't harmed Obama with Pennsylvania voters, several strategists, including independent ones, say it halted what appeared to the makings of an Obama ascent. Still, the senator is expected to benefit disproportionately from the 230,000 new Democrats who have registered since January; one political scientist in the state said his polling suggests that about 62 percent of those voters are Obama supporters.
Roughly half of the delegates at stake on Tuesday will come from Philadelphia and its immediate environs. The rest are scattered across a patchwork that is at once rural, industrial and urban, stretching from wealthy bedroom communities to Allegheny coal towns.
Pennsylvania's contest is open only to Democrats, but general-election strategies have been adopted here by both candidates. Clinton has followed the model Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (a prominent Obama backer) used in 2006 to defeat incumbent GOP Sen. Rick Santorum -- relying on working-class votes in Reagan Democrat strongholds such as Casey's home town of Scranton, where Clinton visited her grandparents as a child.
Obama is following the "East of the Susquehanna" strategy -- mastered by Gov. Edward G. Rendell (who is aggressively working for Clinton) -- which requires candidates to run up huge margins in the politically moderate Philadelphia suburbs. A Friday night Obama rally in the city drew 35,000.
The delegate tally will be decided by how each Democrat fares in the state's 19 congressional districts, in addition to the popular vote. Some districts are worth more than others, based on how many Democrats turned out in the last general election. Fattah's district, for example, which went overwhelmingly for Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004, has the highest allotment: Nine delegates plus one alternate.
But, as in other contests so far this year, the popular vote does not guarantee any sort of massive bump in the overall take. That will make it difficult, though not impossible, for either Clinton or Obama to change the delegate math substantially on Tuesday, both sides concede.
Clinton strategist Geoff Garin, in an e-mail to supporters sent out Friday, said of Pennsylvania that "a win there will do two things: give us momentum that will carry us through the races that follow, and show that Hillary is still the best choice to beat John McCain in the big, competitive states that will decide the race in November."