By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
SCRANTON, Pa., Oct. 12 -- Everything in politics is recyclable. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. left this state while in grade school, but he can still talk of "we Pennsylvanians." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's childhood summers at a nearby lake can be turned into the declaration that "here in northeast Pennsylvania, we don't go down without a fight."
Even one of Clinton's favorite lines from her historic, this-close race for the Democratic nomination can be reworked for the man who defeated her, Sen. Barack Obama.
"It took a Democratic president to clean up after the last President Bush; it's going to take a Democratic president to clean up after this president," Clinton said Sunday at a loud rally here, where she appeared with vice presidential nominee Biden.
Back when she was the front-runner for her party's nomination, she used to say it took Clintons to clean up after the Bushes.
Those Clintons were both here to stump for Obama in a part of Pennsylvania that remains cool toward the Democrat despite increasingly favorable signs elsewhere in the state. As has been the case since Obama became the nominee, the assignment seemed harder on Bill Clinton than on the woman who actually lost the race.
To be fair, the former president's job was to introduce his wife, so he mentioned the word "Obama" only four times in his eight-minute speech. One of those came when he said he had to leave early because "I have been dispatched by the Obama-Biden campaign to go to Virginia, where we're going to win for the first time in 40 years."
It was more of a "Joe and Hillary" day anyway, billed as a homecoming for a favorite son and goddaughter.
Scranton is Biden's home town, even if he left more than 50 years ago and represents Delaware, and his wife, Jill, was born in Pennsylvania as well. Hillary Rodham's grandfather worked in the lace mills, her father is buried here, and she spent childhood summers in a family cabin on a lake nearby. She made the connection stick in April, when she resoundingly defeated Obama in the state's primary.
The long battle turned Scranton's 75,000 residents into the most politically pampered populace in the country. The local Democratic leader unblushingly describes the blue-collar city as the "epicenter" of American politics, and it's hard to prove him wrong.
Obama's Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, has been to this region twice since securing the nomination; his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, mentioned the city in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and on Tuesday she will be in the same indoor athletics complex where Sunday's speeches took place.
Many in the crowd wore "Hillary Sent Me" buttons, and the senator received a louder reception than did the former president. She was unsparing in her praise of both men on the Democratic ticket.
"Barack Obama and Joe Biden are for you, and that's why I am for Barack Obama and Joe Biden," Clinton said. "My friends, this is an all-hands-on-deck moment for America. We've got to work hard, and we've got to work together. This is a fight for the future, and it is a fight we must win."
Clinton said she looked forward to "being on the back lawn of the White House, on a beautiful day like this, when President Obama signs into law quality, affordable health care for you and you and you."
On that day, Biden responded, Obama will hand the signing pen to Clinton for her work on the issue. He lavishly praised the senator from New York, saying, "Hillary and I truly, truly are friends."
Biden also delivered a tough speech about his "old friend" McCain, hammering the Republican for his reaction to the financial meltdown. He reminded the audience, in what has become a standard Democratic repetition, that McCain's initial response Sept. 15 to the turmoil on Wall Street was that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy were "sound," followed several hours later by his saying that the economy was in "crisis."
"Folks, that's what we Catholics call an epiphany," the senator from Delaware said to laughter. "The problem with John McCain -- God love him, as my mother would say -- John's epiphany wasn't that he saw the light. What John saw was the presidency receding from his grasp."
Hillary Clinton is scheduled to campaign Monday in the "collar" suburbs around Philadelphia, where McCain is also scheduled to go this week. But Democrats are brimming with enthusiasm about the state, which Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) narrowly won in the 2004 election.
McCain had hoped to capitalize on some of the same misgivings about Obama that Clinton had exploited in the primary -- especially his remarks at a private fundraiser in California, when he said small-town voters sometimes "get bitter" and "cling to guns or religion" because of their frustrations.
But public polls in Pennsylvania show Obama with a double-digit lead. Obama made four campaign stops in Philadelphia on Saturday and has flooded the airwaves there with commercials. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a strong Clinton supporter now working hard for Obama, said he believes the Democrat is in surprisingly good shape.
Obama is "doing as well in central Pennsylvania as any Democrat has done in a long time," said Rendell, who said economic worries have trumped any cultural concerns about Obama.
Democratic voter registration is up about 500,000 since 2004, and there are 1.2 million more Democrats than Republicans in the state.
The recent news has been such that Hillary Clinton felt the need to issue a warning.
"Sure, the polls show Barack and Joe ahead now, and that's good news," she said, but "nobody should be lulled into any false sense of security."
She noted there have been 10 presidential elections since she became active in politics, and Democrats "have only won three of them." She paused. "And, of course, Bill won two out of the three."