Even with win, Clinton faces uphill challenge

By Craig Gordon

McClatchy News Services

PENNSYLVANIA — For the third time in this primary season, Hillary Rodham Clinton needed a big win just to survive.

And survive she did.

Clinton was leading Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday night by a 9-point margin with 99 percent of the vote counted — enough to silence calls for her to quit and keep her flickering presidential hopes alive.


She faces another set of do-or-die contests in North Carolina and Indiana May 6, almost out of money and running out of chances to stop Obama once and for all.

Pennsylvania was hardly the blow-the-doors-off victory that polls a month ago might have suggested, but Clinton’s camp could celebrate for one night at least that they had held off Obama’s onslaught, being outspent more than 2-1 in a wave of TV advertising.

But Clinton’s campaign will wake today to the reality that the win probably only changed the fundamentals of the race around the margins — barely trimming Obama’s delegate lead and cutting about 200,000 off his 800,000-vote popular vote margin.

Going into Pennsylvania, the Democratic nomination was Obama’s to lose — and coming out of Pennsylvania, Obama still looks to be in largely the same commanding position, with a grip on the nomination that Clinton has yet to break.

Tuesday night’s win, like her previous victories in New Hampshire and Ohio, "keeps her alive. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s well. It doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to win the nomination — she probably won’t — but she gets to continue the campaign in hopes that Obama is going to mess up," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Not only that, but the way ahead just gets tougher for Clinton. Clinton’s campaign is flat broke, compared to Obama’s $42 million in the bank. And of the contests that were left, Pennsylvania was far and away her best shot to change the dynamics of the race — a state with ready-made demographics that matched Clinton’s traditional base: rich with older voters, Catholics and white blue-collar workers.

And in fact, each of those groups came out big for Clinton on Tuesday. Exit polls showed her winning two out of three white voters without college degrees and a like number of voters from families earning less than $50,000 a year.

She carried roughly six in 10 white voters. Obama carried more than 90 percent of black voters.


Clinton’s problem, as it has been in the past, is that Obama is changing the mathematics of winning the Democratic nomination, with an infusion of young voters, party-changers, the well-to-do and the well-educated who boosted his fortunes, even if they weren’t enough to overtake Clinton.

Also, the next contests May 6 give Clinton little chance for a blockbuster win, analysts say. Obama is leading polls in North Carolina by 20-plus points, and she and Obama have been trading the lead in Indiana polling.

Helping Obama is that 30 percent of the Democratic electorate in Indiana lives in a part of the state served by Chicago TV stations, so they know him. Helping Clinton is the fact that Indiana was 45th in the nation in job creation in the last four years — and economically battered voters have frequently turned toward Clinton in the primaries.

To be sure, Clinton has vowed to take her fight for the nomination to the last contests on June 3 — and even beyond, saying she’ll stay in until the party seats disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan.

What To Read Next
Get Local