PENNSYLVANIA STATION 2008

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.

Yesterday it was
Obama. Tomorrow it could be Clinton,  for three reasons. 1786744-1389980-thumbnail.jpg

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,
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 reregistered 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 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 make 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 tonight 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 tomorrow. We'll soon
see whether that is true.

For while the economy is the top issue
for voters right now, and Clinton's positions on economic matters are
viewed favorably by voters, 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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