Pennsylvania was clearly going to be either the semi-finals or the finals in this game. Looks like the semi-finals are headed into overtime. And that's a good thing.
In the pre-internet old days of backroom politics, the party powerful would long ago have taken these two candidates into the proverbial smoke-filled room and knocked heads together until they struck some kind of deal that resolved which one would be the party's nominee.
Today, we have a much more transparent, much more participatory, much more democratic-with-a-small-d process. The superdelegates are the closest thing the party has to the backroom now. Clearly, if they continue their trend to supporting Obama, then Clinton is sunk even though she won Pennsylvania. Quite likely they'll ultimately go with whoever they perceive as a winner. Before, it was Obama. Today it could be Clinton, for three reasons.
First, Hillary Clinton has shown that she--she--the pronoun is important here--is tough, resilient, focused, and able to stand all the heat the kitchen can produce. Whatever the ultimate outcome of this race, no one can say women aren't able to hold up through the hard knuckle political contact sport. She won by that vaunted double digit in Pennsylvania despite being outspent three to one. She hung in there despite being badgered mercilessly to drop out, despite despicable gender-biased media, and despite her husband's foot-in-mouth disease. Even the arch-conservative Bill Bennett praised her perseverance. The woman just keeps slogging through.
Second, her argument that she has won the big battleground states the Democrats must carry to win the general election has become more visibly potent in Pennsylvania. Obama's predictable dismissal of that fact overlooks the distinct possibility that many (like my 88 year old uncle, a lifelong Democrat and social liberal) prefer McCain over Obama. I caught up with Dana Kennedy, a Clinton campaign volunteer who went to Pennsylvania from Arizona to help during the last few days there, at the Hyatt Hotel in the midst of the victory party. "I am amazed at all the support she has," said Kennedy. "Voters went to the polls confident that she would win. We talked with several Republican women voters who re-registered as Democrats's to vote for Hillary. The scary thing is that they say if Obama wins, they'll vote for McCain." People are wondering whether Obama, attractive as he is, can "throw the knockout punch" first to Clinton and then to McCain.
But perhaps the most significant factor to have come out of Pennsylvania is this: Six out of ten new voters broke for Obama. But the late deciders broke for Hillary in exactly the same percentage. Late deciders often decide general elections. They tend to go for safety over sizzle, the person they feel they know best over the newer entry. That's why incumbents almost always win. In addition, most elections are won or lost by very narrow margins, often a swing of two percent or less. So that small group of voters who wait till the last minute to decide makes all the difference. Hillary can now build on her contention that she is the more electable of the two candidates by pointing this out over and over.
Pundit Tim Russert, who has typically been extremely hard on Clinton throughout this campaign, observed that whoever captures the headlines captures the momentum, and whoever captures the momentum captures the money to go forward. Clinton, he said will have all of those today. We'll soon see whether that is true.
For while the economy is the top issue for voters right now, the economic issue she must pay most attention in the short term to is that of her own campaign. If she can raise the money, she can stay in the race. If not, not. On that point, politics has not changed much since the backroom days.
Hillary Clinton's victory speech began, "It's a long way to Pennsylvania Avenue and the road goes straight through the heart of Pennsylvania." Wouldn't you know, just when we thought the exhausting game might be over, the finals have been rescheduled until at least the early June primaries, when all the people will have spoken.
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