Clinton the Brawler Beats Obama the Consensus Builder
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) pledged to continue her campaign Tuesday in a victory speech in Pennsylvania, where she said she was best qualified to be the Democratic presidential nominee after beating Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) by 9 points in the Pennsylvania primary.
"Some people counted me out and said to drop out, but the American people don't quit and they want a president who doesn't want to quit either," Clinton told a packed Philadelphia ballroom in her first remarks in many days that contained no criticism of Obama -- after what many observers said was the most mud-filled primary yet.
Still, Clinton left no doubt that she would fiercely compete for the nomination, saying she would campaign in upcoming primaries that continue into early June.
"My answer to any who doubt is, 'Yes we will,'" she said, to cheers.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton led Obama 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent. Early analysis suggested Clinton's win would cut into Obama's 144-delegate lead by perhaps 18 delegates, a gain that could be reversed if Obama wins in North Carolina, as polling suggests, in two weeks. Also on May 6 is Indiana's primary, which is expected to be close.
"I am in this race to fight for every one who has been counted out," Clinton said, striking the underdog theme. Early in her remarks, while live on national television, she asked for donations, saying, "The fate of this campaign is in your hands."
Meanwhile, Sen. Obama, speaking at a rally in Evansville, Indiana, congratulated Clinton and thanked supporters, including new voters and people who returned to voting after many years. He then returned to his main theme in the final days of the Pennsylvania race: that he wants to change Washington, for both Republicans and Democrats, so Americans can have a government that is responsive to real public needs.
"We believe that the challenges we face are bigger than the smallness of our politics and we know that this election is our chance to change it," Obama said. "The question is not whether the other party will bring change to Washington, but will we ... because the truth is the challenges we face are not just the fault of one man or one party."
Summing up, Obama implicitly criticized the heavily negative tactics of the just-finished Pennsylvania contest, where most outside observers -- including Wednesday's editorial in The New York Times -- said Clinton was to blame for throwing the most political mud.
"We can be the party that says and does whatever it takes to win the next election," he said. "We can calculate and poll-test our positions, tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. Or we can be the party that doesn't just focus on how to win, but why we should win. We can tell everyone what they need to hear about the challenges we face. We can seek to redeem, not just an office, but the trust of the American people."
As the candidates resume campaigning in the next primary states, Indiana and North Carolina, political analysts and Democratic Party leaders -- including approximately 850 super-delegates that have not yet pledged to back either candidate -- will be taking a hard look at the reality of which candidate can win the 2,025 delegates to get the nomination and be best positioned to challenge the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
The difference between the campaigns' views on this point is significant and can be described as largely generational. Clinton's campaign has been arguing that it is best suited to challenge McCain because its candidate has won in major must-win states for the fall, such as New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It discounts Obama's victories in red states where Republicans have held majorities until now or very recent state elections. On the other hand, the Obama campaign sees itself as redrawing the political map -- much like Ronald Reagan did in 1980 or John F. Kennedy did in 1960, when those candidates brought a new generation of voters into their parties.
Both candidates mobilized crucial bases in the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. Clinton won in the state's blue-collar regions, where steel mills closed a decade ago and people have struggled to keep a middle-class lifestyle. She also won among seniors in a state that has one of the highest percentages of elderly in the country, Catholics, and according to reports, attracted young voters in the working-class regions.
Obama, in contrast, won among the state's African-Americans, who are concentrated in its cities such as Philadelphia. He also won among middle-class whites in the suburbs in the state's southeast region and among students at mid-state universities.
The party's superdelegates, its elected officials and luminaries, will parse these splits in coming weeks as they decide whom to support. Those political insiders will be looking at issues that will not be in front of voters in the remaining primary states, such as each candidate's fundraising abilities and damage to the party of an increasingly negative contest. Party leaders fear these attacks will continue and would damage the eventual nominee as Sen. McCain escapes scrutiny.
Earlier Tuesday, both campaigns issued statements spinning Clinton's expected victory.
The Clinton campaign, for its part, does not acknowledge any scenario that would counter its claim that she can win the needed number of delegates to be the nominee. They asked Tuesday why Obama did not win decisively if he was the best candidate to beat McCain in the fall.
"Sen. Obama's supporters -- and many pundits -- have argued that the delegate 'math' makes him the prohibitive frontrunner," the Clinton campaign's prepared statement said. "So if he's already the frontrunner, if he's had six weeks of unlimited resources to get his message out, shouldn't he be the one expected to win tonight? If not, why not?"
The Obama camp, in contrast, noted that Clinton had advantages that money cannot buy, such as the endorsement of Pennsylvania's popular and influential Democratic Governor, Edward Rendell, and the backing of his organization in a state with a history of loyal party politics. Still, Obama's staff said he would clinch the nomination in coming contests because the "delegate math" was on his side.
"We anticipate having a comfortable lead when voting in the last nine contests wraps up in June," his campaign said. "Sen. Obama will continue to gain strength with Democratic super delegates. He will maintain his position as the best candidate to take on John McCain. And he will be ready to unite the American people and begin a new chapter in our history."