Clinton, Obama gear up for Pennsylvania primary
PITTSBURGH — Hillary Clinton, facing another must-win vote, this one in Pennsylvania, used images of Osama bin Laden and a nation at war on Monday to present a last-minute display of toughness and sharpen a contrast with Barack Obama, who spent the day telling voters he is better positioned to bring about change.
Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary will bring to an end a bruising six-week period that has seen both candidates take blows over misstatements and other problems, heightening the anxiety of Democratic Party leaders that the ongoing primary struggle will hurt their eventual nominee, even while presumptive Republican nominee John McCain consolidates his gains, unifies his party and prepares for the fall.
With most analysts expecting a Clinton win Tuesday, both campaigns engaged in furious spin to manage the expectations of the public and party leaders. Obama conceded to a Pennsylvania radio station that he will probably lose, but noted that he has significantly closed a 20 percentage point deficit with Clinton in the state. Clinton, for her part, said she does not expect to win by much, and questioned Obama’s viability in the fall if he cannot win large swing states like Pennsylvania.
As a potential indicator of how the candidates viewed the outcome, Clinton scheduled a celebration for supporters in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, while Obama, an Illinois senator, was headed for Indiana and a rally in Evansville featuring singer John Mellencamp, whose endorsement was courted, in anticipation of the next big battle awaiting both candidates on May 6.
A frenetic day of cross-state appearances by Obama and Clinton marked the last full day of campaigning before an anticipated record number of Pennsylvania voters go to the polls for a primary, their ranks swelled by an increase in voter registration generated by the prolonged campaign. The race featured more than $16 million in spending primarily on TV ads, with Obama holding a 3-1 advantage over Clinton.
Both quickly snapped up opportunities for free TV on primary eve, no matter the sophistication level. Obama and Clinton taped an appearance on Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" and Clinton was interviewed for "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" and "Larry King Live." Both Democrats, along with McCain, also taped an introduction to World Wrestling Entertainment’s "Raw."
Attempting to display toughness, Clinton’s campaign launched a final ad that displayed images of bin Laden, Pearl Harbor and the stock market crash while a narrator asks, "Who do you think has what it takes?"
Obama campaign officials labeled the ad "fear-mongering," as they did in Ohio when Clinton unleashed a controversial TV ad that asked voters who was better prepared to handle a 3 a.m. emergency crisis call at the White House. And the Obama camp followed up with an ad posted on its Web site in which an announcer asks, "Who in times of challenge will unite us — not use fear and calculation to divide us?"
Clinton echoed the theme of her ad throughout appearances Monday in Scranton, Harrisburg, and, in Pittsburgh, where she was joined by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
"It is the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything," Clinton told a crowd in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh. "Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And I’m very comfortable in that kitchen making those decisions and standing up for you because I know that’s what it’s going to take."
For his part, Obama initially did little to help himself counter Clinton’s claims that the Illinois senator could not deal with hard questions and difficult issues. As he greeted voters at a diner in Scranton, Obama shrugged off a reporter’s question about foreign policy by saying, "Why can’t I just eat my waffle?"