Obama – Clinton : What the Clinton Pennsylvania win indicates

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Hillary Clinton just hit that magic number. By winning the Pennsylvania primary with a 10 percentage point margin, Mrs Clinton crossed precisely the threshold that pretty much everyone agreed was the minimum necessary for her to rejuvenate her fading chances of securing the Democratic nomination.

By Edward Luce in New York

That prospect is still unlikely. But the fact that the Clinton campaign managed to raise $2.5m in new donations within two hours of her projected victory suggests that her candidacy has been re-energised and can now probably last the duration. With just $9m in the bank at the start of the month and $1m a day in operating costs, there had been serious doubts about whether she could afford to keep her campaign on the road. Those can now be put aside.

Three initial conclusions can be drawn from the Pennsylvania results. First, Barack Obama continues to struggle to win over white working class voters. In spite of heavily outspending Mrs Clinton in the last six weeks and in spite of intensively criss-crossing Pennsylvania, the blue collar voter remains suspicious of his charms. His campaign lost that critical demographic by roughly the same margins as it had in Ohio in early March, where Mrs Clinton also won by 10 percentage points.

This could augur badly for Mr Obama in a general election, were he the nominee. Mr Obama’s controversial remarks about the bitterness of small-town Americans, coupled with his taint-by-association with Jeremiah Wright, his firebrand former pastor, could be skillfully exploited by the Republicans to define him as an elitist and as a character who is insufficiently known – or even insufficiently American – to be trusted as commander-in-chief. The longer Mrs Clinton hammers away at Mr Obama’s biography, the weaker he appears as a potential nominee.

Second, the odds are still heavily against Mrs Clinton overturning Mr Obama’s lead in the popular vote, in spite of the fact that she narrowed that gap by about 130,000 voters in Pennsylvania to take it below 700,000. Nor is she remotely likely to surpass Mr Obama’s edge among elected delegates in spite of cutting his 150-strong lead by roughly 20 delegates on Tuesday night. That means Mrs Clinton will continue to focus on persuading the roughly 300 undecided super-delegates, who will ultimately decide this contest, that Mr Obama will not be able to cut the mustard against John McCain in the autumn. Expect more character attacks on Mr Obama and lots more negative politics from both camps.

And third, the state of Indiana, which goes to the polls on May 6 along with North Carolina, suddenly looms large. Of the other eight remaining contests, each is obviously either in the Clinton or Obama column. South Dakota, Oregon and Montana will almost certainly vote for Mr Obama. And Kentucky, Puerto Rico and Guam will embrace Mrs Clinton.

Only Indiana, where polls show the race is too close to call, can tip the psychological momentum one way or another among the contests that remain. Mr Obama said almost as much in his Pennsylvania concession speech that took place in Indiana on Tuesday night. “Now it’s up to you Indiana,” he said.

Mrs Clinton delivered a characteristically gritty speech in Philadelphia in which she promised to get up again and again every time she stumbles and is knocked down. By this stage in the race even Mrs Clinton’s bitterest detractors evince a sneaking admiration for her tenacity. Meanwhile, many of Mr Obama’s supporters are beginning to have that queasy feeling that their candidate may just be unable to deliver that knockout blow.

The Financial Times

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