By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, April 22 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the Pennsylvania presidential primary decisively on Tuesday night, running up a 10-percentage-point victory that bolstered her case for staying in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Sen. Barack Obama played down a defeat that did not substantially reduce his delegate lead, but the outcome only further muddled a race that has stretched on for nearly four months and has sharply divided the party. The two will meet again in primaries in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6.
An estimated 2 million Democrats voted, nearly triple the number who turned out in the past two presidential primaries in the state. Clinton ran up big margins with her core constituencies, winning white voters with incomes under $50,000 by 32 points, voters over age 65 by 26 percent, and Catholic voters by 38 percent -- more than countering Obama's strong showing among black voters and higher-income whites in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She signaled that despite her dramatic financial disadvantage, she has no intention of getting out before the last votes are cast on June 3.
"It's a long road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and it runs right through the heart of Pennsylvania," Clinton said at a raucous post-election rally in Philadelphia. After a campaign that went on for more than a month and a half in the Keystone State, she said: "You listened, and today, you chose."
"Some people counted me out and said to drop out. But the American people don't quit, and they deserve a president who doesn't quit, either," she said.
Obama congratulated Clinton at a campaign event in Evansville, Ind., but also sought to move beyond a contest in Pennsylvania in which he heavily outspent her and became bogged down in a string of controversies, including reports about the incendiary comments of his former pastor and his own remarks about "bitter" small-town residents during a San Francisco fundraiser.
"It's easy to get caught up in the distractions and the silliness and the tit-for-tat that consumes our politics -- the bickering that none of us are immune to -- and that trivializes the profound issues: two wars, an economy in recession, a planet in peril," he said. "But that kind of politics is not why we're here tonight. It's not why I'm here and it's not why you're here."
Describing the victory as "deeply personal," the senator from New York recounted once again her family history in Pennsylvania -- the story of her grandfather, and her father, a lace-mill worker from Scranton, which she has folded into her biography as evidence that she would be a populist fighter.
"I am back here tonight because of their hard work and sacrifice," she said. "In this election, I carry with me not just their dreams, but the dreams of people like them and like you all across our country. People who embrace hard work and opportunity, who never waver in the face of adversity, who stand for what you believe and never stop believing in the promise of America."
Clinton continued: "I'm in this race to fight for you, to fight for everyone who's ever been counted out, for everyone fighting to pay the grocery bills or the medical bills . . . and the outrageous price of gas at the pump today." Her campaign played the theme song from "Rocky" at the rally, part of an ongoing effort to turn Clinton's fall from inevitability as an asset.
Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Clinton's top supporter in the state, described the victory at a post-election rally as an "earthquake" that would change the dynamic of the Democratic race. It came as a huge relief for Clinton aides, who say their only chance of an upset is to run off a string of triumphs.
Yet it was a relief for the Obama campaign, too. The senator from Illinois denied Clinton an overwhelming landslide in a state that played to her demographic strengths, with its many working-class, elderly and Catholic voters, and it put her back on uphill terrain. Obama continues to hold a huge financial advantage and a lead in pledged delegates that will be almost impossible for Clinton to surpass in the few contests that remain.
Clinton acknowledged her financial predicament in her victory speech, urging supporters to send the money she needs to keep going through to the final primaries. "Tonight more than ever, I need your help to continue this journey," she said. "We can only keep winning if we can keep competing against an opponent who outspends us so massively." Late Tuesday, her campaign said it had received $2.5 million in contributions in the hours after the race was called.
Throughout the seven-week contest in Pennsylvania, party leaders watched nervously as the two Democrats engaged in an increasingly divisive campaign that culminated in an exchange of negative television ads.
The final days of the contest had something of an anticlimactic feel, as the campaigns debated what margin of victory Clinton would need to claim momentum heading into the next round of voting.
Her campaign hoped a resounding win would help move into her column undecided party superdelegates, a group of several hundred party leaders and officeholders who are likely to determine the eventual nominee. Clinton's closing argument in Pennsylvania resembled her core rationale for running in the first place: She said she is better able to beat Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumed GOP nominee, in the general election; is most qualified to serve as commander in chief; and is uniquely suited for the presidency based on her life experience. She ran an ad invoking Harry S. Truman, challenging her rivals to get "out of the kitchen" if they cannot stand the heat that comes with a race for the White House. The Obama campaign said the ad was an attempt to inject scare tactics into the competition, noting the use of an image of Osama bin Laden in the spot.
What momentum Obama seemed to have -- aided by media scrutiny of Clinton's inaccurate recounting of a 1996 trip to Bosnia -- appeared to stall about 10 days before votes were cast, when news broke of his comments about small-town residents who "cling" to guns and religion because Washington has let them down.
The remarks forced Obama to play defense for nearly a week. Just as he appeared to be regaining his footing, he struggled through a debate with Clinton in Philadelphia after being hit with a series of tough questions -- including why he does not wear an American flag pin on his lapel and about his relationship with a former member of the radical group the Weather Underground.
With the primary less than a week away, Obama was again forced off message. He campaigned through the state aggressively, hitting all four corners and much of its conservative heartland.
Usually accompanied by his highest-profile backer in the state, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., he visited bars, factories and bowling alleys. He held smaller town hall meetings instead of big rallies, seeking to neutralize Clinton's support in individual congressional districts to limit her take of pledged delegates.
His weekly ad spending topped $3 million, for a total of around $12 million in the campaign here. Voters appeared to be paying close attention. Obama drew his biggest crowd of the campaign Friday night in downtown Philadelphia, with 35,000 people stretching over three blocks.
In Indiana on Tuesday night, he tried to look ahead to his hoped-for showdown with McCain, while at the same time continuing his case against the primary opponent he has been unable to shake.
"We can be a party that says and does whatever it takes to win the next election. We can calculate and poll-test our positions and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear," he said. "Or we can be the party that doesn't just focus on how to win but why we should. We can tell everyone what they need to hear about the challenges we face. We can seek to regain not just an office, but the trust of the American people that their leaders in Washington will tell them the truth. That's the choice in this election."
Polling director Jon Cohen, polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and staff writers Paul Kane, traveling with Obama in Pennsylvania, and Alec MacGillis in Washington contributed to this report.