After Pennsylvania, still a close race

Sen. Hillary Clinton won decisively, but she's still trailing Sen. Barack Obama in delegates. Next: North Carolina and Indiana.
Crosscut archive image.
Sen. Hillary Clinton won decisively, but she's still trailing Sen. Barack Obama in delegates. Next: North Carolina and Indiana.

The Tuesday, April 22, Pennsylvania Democratic presidential primary, won handily by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, went exactly as anticipated and confirmed patterns that have deepened as the process has proceeded.

Short term, Clinton's victory kept her in the nominating race and will provide a respectable point of departure going into the North Carolina and Indiana primaries May 6. It was particularly noteworthy because she was outspent 2.5-to-1 in Pennsylvania by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — and despite the fact that a strong majority of Pennsylvania Democrats said they expected Obama to win the nomination.

  • Voter turnout continues to be at record levels in the Democratic contests. Democrats and independents, in the Democratic races, have voted in far heavier absolute numbers and percentages than voted in Republican contests before Arizona Sen. John McCain wrapped things up on the GOP side. Similarly, campaign money has flowed far more heavily to Democratic than to Republican candidates.
  • In Pennsylvania, Clinton carried strongly her core constituency, over-50 white women, as well as union members, lower-income voters, Catholics, Jewish voters, and so-called Reagan Democrats. Obama dominated in his two core constituences, black and young voters, and also ran strongly among better-educated and higher-income Democrats.
  • Supporters of both Obama and Clinton indicated in significant numbers in exit polls that they could not support the other candidate in a general election. But those feelings could subside as and when a nominee is determined and the fall race begins against McCain. Historically, they have.
  • Clinton can credibly pursue her argument that she would run more strongly against McCain than Obama in big, must-win states such as New York, California, Ohio, New Jersey, Texas, and Pennsylvania, where she carried the primary popular vote. She will argue, as well, that she might have won both Michigan and Florida, had those states' contests been sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. She may, in the next month, undertake a full-court effort to have those states' delegates apportioned by a formula favorable to her.
  • Obama, on the other hand, can continue to argue that he leads in the overall popular vote and attracts new voters and independents. He also represents change to a degree that Clinton cannot. He also can point to data indicating that a near majority of Democratic voters — not to mention Republicans and independents — do not trust Clinton's veracity.
  • As has been pointed out frequently, the two candidates are not far apart on any major foreign or domestic issue, although both are far distant from McCain. Thus, the nominating end game finds them stressing issues of character and personality rather than linear policy issues.
What comes next?

Both candidates will campaign intensely in North Carolina and Indiana. North Carolina, with a big African-American vote, is expected to go to Obama by at least 10 percentage points. Indiana, at this stage, is a tossup.

Media pundits and many Democratic party leaders have urged Clinton to concede on the basis that, without Michigan and Florida victories, there is no way she can collect enough delegates to win the nomination. Rank-and-file Democratic voters have not shown similar sentiment and appear in no hurry to settle things. As noted, even though a majority in Pennsylvania expected an eventual Obama nomination, they nonetheless gave Clinton a handsome popular-vote victory (even though the division of delegates will be far narrower).

This reflects a syndrome that normally takes place in Democratic presidential nominating processes. Whether reflecting buyer's remorse, or a desire to play the full nine innings of the nominating process, voters traditionally in later primary contests have provided strong showings and even victories to runners-up. Clinton could be the beneficiary of this syndrome in 2008 — especially if voters feel she faces undue pressure to withdraw.

I noted in an earlier article that the Obama-Clinton contest has been far tamer and more civil than, for instance, the Democratic nominating contests of 1948, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, or 2004. Anxiety that Obama and Clinton will destroy themselves before their party's August convention seems overblown. It mainly appears to be based on Democrats' fears that their nominee might blow what appeared earlier to be an almost certain victory this fall.

The Obama-Clinton contest can and will go forward. Obama remains the favorite for the nomination. But Clinton remains within striking distance and could benefit from a major Obama blunder or scandal. Obama will not wrap things up until or unless he finishes with decisive victories between now and the last contest, June 3.

Obama's problem: He has convinced Democrats he is a nice guy and a unifier. But he also has shown he lacks a killer instinct. Hillary's problem: Everyone knows she has a killer instinct. But nice-gal unifying is not her game.

McCain, in meantime, is beginning to get heretofore absent media scrutiny of his public and private records. Washington Post and New York Times stories over the past few days have stressed his unpleasant hair-trigger temper and his ties to Arizona special interests.

All this serves to remind that our would-be leaders — and our presidents, once elected — are not larger-than-life super people but more like the rest of us than can be imagined. Better to have no illusions going in.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of