Obama – Clinton : Pennsylvania to make or break Hillary

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The seven-week campaign in Pennsylvania concluded on Monday much as it had begun – in a swirl of accusations and counter-accusations.

By Andrew Ward in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Edward Luce in Washington

Hillary Clinton, whom most analysts believe must win by a double digit-margin on Tuesday to give her sufficient momentum for a shot at the Democratic nomination, returned to the theme of her readiness to be commander-in-chief.

In a television advertisement in Pennsylvania, the Clinton campaign questioned whether the relatively inexperienced Barack Obama was ready for the job. It followed several weeks of increasingly fissile exchanges between the two camps in which Mr Obama has accused Mrs Clinton of “slash and burn” politics and the Clinton camp has responded with charges of hypocrisy.

Mr Obama, who has come under withering scrutiny in the past few weeks, is more than 800,000 votes ahead of Mrs Clinton and has a lead of about 150 delegates in the pledged delegate count. Barring a series of improbably crushing defeats, he is likely to be ahead on both counts at the end of the primary calendar on June 3.

One opinion poll yesterday showed Mrs Clinton leading by 10 points in Pennsylvania – roughly in line with the margin she would need to claim fresh momentum, say analysts. Other surveys have shown her with a slimmer, single-digit lead.

“Harry Truman said it best – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the one-minute Clinton advertisement says. “Who do you think has what it takes?”

The Obama campaign responded by charging that Mrs Clinton was practising the same kind of strategy of fear that George W. Bush, the president, was accused of using to win the 2004 presidential election.

“It is ironic that she would borrow the president’s tactics in her own campaign and invoke [Osama] bin Laden to score political points,” said Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman. “We already have a president who plays the politics of fear, and we don’t need another.”

The exchanges set the tone for the remaining six weeks of the campaign, which goes next to Indiana and North Carolina on May 6 and concludes in South Dakota and Montana on June 3. Both candidates face problems – Mrs Clinton has a cash crisis and Mr Obama is suffering from a growing perception that he lacks the instinct to go for the political jugular.

Mrs Clinton is counting on a large victory in Pennsylvania to spark a fresh surge of donations. However, many of her big donors have already given the maximum amount allowed under campaign finance laws, making her heavily reliant on new pledges.

Without a significant supply of fresh cash, Mrs Clinton would have to go deeper into debt to remain competitive – and possibly add to the $5m personal loan she has already made to her campaign.

One longstanding Clinton donor said that the campaign did not even have enough cash to pay Democratic officials the traditional “walk around money” to knock on doors and help organise the get-out-the-vote effort.

“We are close to the bottom of the barrel,” said the donor. Mrs Clinton spent part of her last day of campaigning in Scranton, the industrial town where her father grew up, to make her closing argument ahead of today’s poll.

She told supporters that she was “certain” she could still win the nomination and the presidency, calling on the voters to focus on her experience and policies rather than the lofty rhetoric of her opponent. “Some people say ‘yes we can,’ but that’s not the same as, ‘we will’,” she said, referring to Mr Obama’s campaign slogan.

Mrs Clinton drew away from the sharp criticism she had levelled at Mr Obama at the weekend, when the warring candidates traded attacks over each other’s healthcare plans.

But by returning to Scranton, where her grandfather had worked in a lace mill from the age of 11 until retirement, Mrs Clinton aimed to make an unspoken contrast between her roots in working class Pennsylvania and Mr Obama’s allegedly “condescending” remarks about “bitter” small town voters.

Hundreds of supporters chanted “one day to victory” and “Madam President” as Mrs Clinton took to the stage of a town centre ballroom, with three generations of her family watching on.

“We’ve got your back Hillary,” shouted a voice in the crowd. Mrs Clinton’s defiant speech was capped by the Tom Petty song I Won’t Back Down played at the end of the event.

The Financial Times

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