Sen. Hillary Clinton pulled out a victory in Pennsylvania Tuesday, once again preventing Sen. Barack Obama from knocking her out of the race, at least for now. The question now is the size of Clinton's victory. Most strategists say her margin of victory has to get into the double digits to really change the tone of this race.
Clinton is the projected winner of Tuesday's crucial Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, with 53 percent of the vote to Obama's 47 percent with just 18 percent of precincts reporting. But even with the win, which University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato says provides Clinton some temporary bragging rights, "the odds are against her in any event," he concludes.
Clinton has an uphill fight to get just one win out of the next two states on the Democratic primary docket. Polls show a mixed bag in Indiana where Clinton stands the best chance on May 6. The numbers range from a 5 point lead for Obama in the latest LA Times/Bloomberg to a 16 point advantage for Clinton in a recent Survey USA poll.
In North Carolina, polls suggest an Obama landslide. A recent Insider Advantage poll gives Obama a 15 point lead, while the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling give the Illinois senator a staggering 25 point edge. That poll also shows Obama leading among women and within striking distance of Clinton's 5 point lead among white voters.
"North Carolina is a lost cause," Sabato says. "Obama will win big because of the large African-American percentage. Indiana is very close, and it borders Illinois, [which] should help Obama. But [Sen.] Evan Bayh is for Clinton, and he's the equivalent of [Ohio Gov. Ted] Strickland or [Pennsylvania Gov. Ed] Rendell."
In both upcoming contests, the economy is issue one according to polls and the campaigns are already up with TV ads in both states. Still, Indiana is friendlier territory for Clinton given the state's higher percentage of working-class white voters, a source of strength for Clinton in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"She can probably pull out a victory in Indiana," says analyst Rhodes Cook. "And then even if she loses North Carolina, she still has Kentucky and West Virginia where could conceivably win by 20 points each."
While the numbers game is all but a lost cause for Clinton between Obama's lead in the pledged delegate count and in the overall number of states won, Cook says Clinton still has an outside shot at catching Obama in the popular vote-something that may keep her in the race until the bitter end.
While Clinton still won among white men in Pennsylvania, exit polls showed a much smaller margin than she garnered in Ohio. Clinton won some 53 percent of the white male vote to Obama's 46 percent. In Ohio, Clinton bested Obama by a full 19 points with that constituency.
"In terms of Pennsylvania being a major game-changing type of result," says Cook, "it would have to be an overall win of 10 points or more."
For its part the Clinton campaign is focusing on Obama's massive spending and ad blitz in the state, which failed to translate into a win despite shattering political advertising records.
"It's still a loss [for Obama]," says Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, "and the argument Clinton is making about him can become a concern for some people."
One scenario for Obama to close out the race before June is for superdelegates to finally close in large numbers for the Illinois senator. Even if that does happen, Larry Sabato says he doesn't see Clinton quitting.
"Keep in mind that [Clinton] is nearly guaranteed to win West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, as long as she stays in," says Sabato. "Why exactly would she withdraw knowing she has three more victories coming?"(and twenty years ago I was in Pennsylvania for the election with my friend Larry...)