By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 4:38 PM
Pennsylvania voters went to the polls today in the largest remaining Democratic primary as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama continued sniping at each other over politics and policies, arguing over such topics as negative campaigning and the use of military force against Iran.
Clinton (N.Y.), the favorite in Pennsylvania in pre-primary polls, acknowledged this morning that she has to win the state but insisted that the margin of victory does not matter. Obama (Ill.), who has heavily outspent Clinton in Pennsylvania, said he does not expect to overcome his rival's lead in the polls but hopes to make the contest close, ensuring his continued strong lead in the all-important delegate count.
Polling places in the Democratic primary opened at 7 a.m. Eastern time and were scheduled to close at 8 p.m.
Turnout was "quite strong" this morning in Philadelphia, the state's largest city, but appeared "spottier" in the suburbs, said Zack Stalberg, president of an election watchdog group called the Committee of Seventy. "The Obama people were counting on a good result from the suburbs," he said. "I'm not sure if they're going to get that."
The committee received a "routine number" of complaints about voting machine breakdowns and other glitches, but no major problems were reported, Stalberg said.
At stake in today's primary are 158 pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, where 2,025 delegate votes are needed to secure the party's presidential nomination.
Obama currently leads Clinton by about 140 delegates, and neither is expected to reach the required number before the convention. Rather, the nomination appears likely to be decided at the convention by nearly 800 unpledged "superdelegates," a key constituency that each side is hoping to sway by their performances in Pennsylvania and ensuing nominating contests that conclude on June 3.
According to the Associated Press, Obama led Clinton in total delegates by 1,648 to 1,509 going into today's vote. MSNBC estimated the totals at 1,654 for Obama and 1,513 for Clinton. The delegate counts are a moving target because they include unpledged delegates whose preferences must be continuously monitored.
Pennsylvania also was holding a Republican primary today, but Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has already wrapped up the GOP nomination.
About 4 million Democrats were eligible to vote in their party's closed primary. Both candidates appealed to them in last-minute television ads, campaign stops and dueling appearances on the morning TV news shows.
Appearing to accept polling results that predict a Clinton win in Pennsylvania, Obama today forecast that the campaign would continue until at least June, when Montana and South Dakota hold the last primaries on the Democratic schedule.
"I've come to the conclusion that this race will continue until the last primary or caucus vote is cast, and that's not that far away," Obama told reporters while eating pancakes at a Pittsburgh diner as voters began casting their ballots.
After visiting Philadelphia in the afternoon, Obama is scheduled to fly to Indiana, which holds a Democratic primary May 6. Clinton planned to remain in Pennsylvania through today, holding an "election night celebration" at a Philadelphia hotel. She is scheduled to campaign in Indianapolis tomorrow.
On NBC's "Today" show, Clinton declined to make any predictions about how she would fare in the Keystone State and sought to shift the onus to Obama, whose campaign has more money in its coffers and who she said has outspent her three or four to one.
"And if he doesn't win, what does that say about his ability to win the big states that a Democrat has to win in order to win the White House?" Clinton asked.
"It doesn't say much," retorted Obama, who appeared on the same show, "because the fact is that my approval ratings here in Pennsylvania among Democrats are extraordinarily high." He said Clinton "started off here with a 20-point lead" and has the support of a popular Democratic governor, Edward G. Rendell.
The two contenders then sparred over electoral math, with Clinton dismissing the idea that she needs to win by at least 10 percentage points to remain in the race. Half a dozen separate polls taken since last week showed her leading in Pennsylvania by margins ranging from five to 13 percentage points.
"Well, I don't think the margin matters," Clinton said. "I think a win is a win. . . . This is a really close race. And it's not just about the math. It's about an assessment. . . . And I feel very strongly that I would be the best president."
Obama disagreed. "I think it should be about who's going to win in November, and I think that's going to be me," he said. "It'll be all about the math. It'll be about who's voted for whom."
The two also argued over who was waging the more negative campaign and offered their takes on gender versus racial discrimination.
"Nobody knows quite how to cover a woman running for president," Clinton said. "And it is like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. You know, I have to do everything Fred does, only backwards and in high heels."
She added: "The most pervasive form of discrimination in the world, no matter what the ethnicity, the race, the religion of the people who live in any society, is discrimination against women."
Obama said that "race is always a factor in our society, but I think it's greatly diminished."
The former first lady and the freshman senator from Illinois also traded jabs in separate interviews on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Well, I have to win" in Pennsylvania, Clinton said. "I know very well that I'm in a real fight here." She said that "the road to Pennsylvania Avenue goes right through Pennsylvania," adding that Obama has the burden "to prove that he can win a big state, because he hasn't, really, up until now."
Obama replied that "we feel good about how we've chipped away" at Clinton's lead in the state, which an American Research Group poll earlier this month put at 20 percentage points. The latest survey by the same group showed Clinton leading by 13 points.
Asked about her statement in a debate last week that Iran would face "massive retaliation" if it attacked Israel, Clinton said: "Well, the question was if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran" in such a case.
In the event of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, "we would be able to totally obliterate them," Clinton said. "That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that, because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic."
President Bush has accused Iran of secretly planning to build nuclear weapons, a charge the Iranian government denies. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also has declared publicly that "Iran is not a threat to any country" and has "no intention of going to war with any government." Tehran asserts that its nuclear program is intended solely to generate electricity.
Obama said later on the same program that he favors responding "forcefully and swiftly" to any Iranian use of nuclear weapons against "Israel or any of our allies." But he said the hypothetical question "presupposes a failure" to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arms capability in the first place. "I have consistently said that I will do everything in my power to prevent them from having it, and I have not ruled out military force as an option," he said.
Asked about Clinton's more forceful language, Obama said that "using words like 'obliterate' doesn't actually produce good results, and so I'm not interested in saber rattling." He added: "I think the Iranians can be confident that I will respond forcefully, and it will be completely unacceptable if they attack Israel or any other of our allies in the region, with conventional weapons or nuclear weapons."