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Decisive Win Can't Forestall A Daunting Task

After seven weeks of campaigning for the state, Sen. Hillary Clinton wins the Pa. primary, bolstering her case for staying in the race against Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. The outcome further muddles a race that has stretched on for nearly four months and sharply divided the party.

That leaves the senator from New York with few options other than to keep winning as many of the remaining contests as possible, then pleading with superdelegates to set aside the numerical indicators of who leads and consider who would make the stronger nominee against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Clinton expects victories in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Obama's team expects to win Oregon, North Carolina, Montana, South Dakota and Guam. That makes Indiana the critical battleground. Obama was there last night and Clinton will arrive today.

Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania came after a turbulent month in the Obama campaign. He was rocked first by controversy over incendiary statements from his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Then came Obama's description of small-town voters as "bitter" over their economic situation, which he said leads them to "cling" to religion and guns.

After his loss in Ohio, Obama looked to demonstrate that he could attract more support among white, working-class voters. But exit polls from Pennsylvania showed he made scant progress, despite a bus tour that took him from one end of the Keystone State to the other with an appeal designed to reach out to those voters.

In Pennsylvania, Clinton won white voters who did not go to college by about 40 points. In Ohio, it was 44 points. Nor did Obama increase his vote among white college graduates, losing them to Clinton in Pennsylvania by six percentage points after losing them in Ohio by seven.

Clinton won the late-deciders in Pennsylvania handily, an apparent sign again that Obama has had trouble closing the most competitive primaries. In Pennsylvania, in contrast to Ohio, Obama threw everything he could into the final days, airing three negative commercials on television, hammering Clinton with a closing argument that cast the choice as one between a practitioner of special-interest politics as usual versus a reformer who would change the way Washington works.

One clear bright spot for Obama was the nearly one in 10 voters in the Democratic primary who had recently registered with the party. Pennsylvania experienced a huge shift in voter registration over the past year, with Democratic registration rising by more than 300,000 and Republican registration shrinking by about 70,000.

Among newly registered Democrats voting yesterday, Obama won them by about 20 percentage points. His advisers will point to that as evidence that he can draw support from former independents or even disaffected Republicans in a general-election race against McCain.

Clinton faces another significant handicap as she tries to block Obama's route to the nomination. Her negative ratings have risen enough in the past two months that she runs a great risk if she tries to defeat him by attacking him.

In almost every way, Clinton remains a distinct underdog in the Democratic race. But the results from Pennsylvania mean she will continue to fight on.

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