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24 Apr 2008 07:31
Barack Obama faced renewed questions on Wednesday about his ability to deliver a Democratic victory in November after his failure to knock out Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary.
With the protracted campaign entering its final phase, Clinton won the primary with 55% of the vote against 45% for Obama, a majority achieved by decisive wins among white voters, Catholics and low-income households.
The result did not significantly dent Obama’s lead in delegates, popular vote or fundraising, neither did it fundamentally alter his status as the Democratic frontrunner. But Clinton cast it as a turning point.
“The tide is turning,” she said in an email to supporters on Wednesday morning.
The two moved quickly from Pennsylvania to Indiana, which goes to the polls on May 6 and which could, finally, be crunch time for Clinton.
Clinton, who has won most of the primaries since February 3, is expecting to take a majority of the remaining nine contests. But her team believes the big success in Pennsylvania was to plant doubts about Obama’s chances against John McCain.
“Obama is unelectable,” one of her advisers said on Wednesday.
Her team is hoping this argument will sway the 300 superdelegates—members of Congress and others with automatic voting rights in choosing the candidate—who have still to declare their support.
In six television appearances on Wednesday morning, she argued that her win meant that she would be more electable against John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, in November.
“I won the states that we have to win—Ohio, now Pennsylvania,” she told CNN. “It’s very hard to imagine a Democrat getting to the White House without winning those states.”
Clinton tried to reopen the case for counting the disqualified primary contests in Michigan and Florida, which would shift the balance in her favour. Her team is to raise these states at the Democratic rules committee in June and, if that fails, at the convention in Denver in August.
In a conference call with reporters, Obama’s campaign manager maintained the dynamics of the race remained unchanged, with Obama well in the lead. “We don’t believe that the structure of the race is going to change fundamentally for Senator Clinton,” David Plouffe said.
He also dismissed Clinton’s argument that only she could win the big states. “The notion that they talk about California and New York—any Democratic candidate is going to perform well in those states,” he said.
In spite of winning by a 10% margin, Clinton made little impression on Obama’s overall lead in delegates, who will choose the candidate. The Associated Press (AP) put her haul from Pennsylvania at 80 delegates against 66 for Obama, with 12 still to be awarded. That left him, according to AP, with 1 715 delegates, compared with 1 589 for Clinton. She is not realistically capable of narrowing the gap.
The Obama camp, trying to soften Tuesday’s defeat, moved quickly to demonstrate its strength in North Carolina, which also goes to the polls on May 6. It announced it had won over 50 supporters of the defeated Democratic candidate and North Carolina native John Edwards.
Edwards is unlikely to make an endorsement but Wednesday’s list included Wade Smith, his lifelong mentor, and Ed Turlington, the chair of his 2004 campaign. “We are going to be in the trenches helping him to do well,” Turlington told reporters.
Speaking on CNN radio, Obama denied a Washington Post story that the message that his strategy team had taken from Pennsylvania was to match Clinton by fighting a similarly negative campaign.
In spite of his denial, one of his team’s first actions in Indiana, the new battleground, was to distribute a negative mail-shot accusing Clinton of double-standards on free trade, a hot issue in the Midwest, where a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico is blamed for job losses.
Exit polls in Pennsylvania showed low-income and conservative voters had yet to embrace Obama, raising the prospect that they could defect to McCain and cost the Democrats the White House. After a hard-fought race, Obama lost among white women by 32 points, among Catholics by 38 points, and among middle-income households by 20 points.—Â
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