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Obama Fails to Close the Gap; Clinton Wins in Pennsylvania


Hillary Clinton’s victory in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary will not prove decisive for her to secure the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. That was not expected, because neither the New York Senator nor her Illinois rival, Senator Barack Obama could have divided up Pennsylvania’s prize of 158 delegates to reach the total of 2,025 needed to clinch the race. However, the Pennsylvania contest culminates the longest phase since the primary season began in January to go without a state election, and the six-week lull heightened focus on the candidates’ skills in reaching voters in a critical, delegate-rich northeastern state. University of Pennsylvania law professor Anita Allen says that the six-week focus posed a worthy test of the two US senators’ electability in November’s national election.

“The current campaign definitely tested the ability of Barack Obama to win in the general election in the fall, more than I think Hillary. Hillary wisely saw that her best strategy was to cast doubts about Barack’s electability, and I think she actually did that. And although Barack is going to be a formidable foe, I do think that his capacity to get around the fact that he is less experienced, that he is a man of color, and that he had less than a year in Washington (before declaring his candidacy) are going to be issues for him going forward,” she said.

A loss in Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton could have signaled the beginning of the end of her 2008 bid, which at one time had been described as a candidacy of entitlement. Going into Pennsylvania, Barack Obama held about a 140-delegate lead over Senator Clinton nationwide. Despite Clinton’s Tuesday win in Pennsylvania, analysts will be closely watching her margins of victory because a narrowing of her lead still could help propel Obama to the nomination in weeks ahead if he wins Democratic primaries in Indiana (May 6), North Carolina (May 6), West Virginia (May 13), and Kentucky (May 20). Professor Allen says it was a fitting finish to the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania to hold its final rally at the University of Pennsylvania before an energized academic community of students, faculty, and a well-entrenched West Philadelphia community of local residents, many of whom are African-American.

“I think being in the Philadelphia area was a good idea. They have a lot of support among people of color traditionally, but also among women, among educated people, and the Clintons were on our campus a lot. Bill, Hillary, and (their daughter) Chelsea spent a lot of time of the Penn campus. And they’ve also been seen at Drexel University down the street. They’ve been seen down the road a few miles on the Constitution Center and elsewhere, because I think they believe that this university is a source of support for them. The young voters are important in this election. The educated voters are important. The black vote, of course is important, and of course having this great university being right in the middle of a historically and ethnically African-American community is a way of saying that we’re both interested in the problems of a poor urban community and also interested in promoting the interests and values of our more educated population who have a great role to play in providing leadership and guidance and policymaking for our country in the future,” she noted.

Although Senator Obama outspent Senator Clinton by wide margins of the past month and a half. He raised funds at the grass roots, from students, the poor, the wealthy, and a broad range of new first-time supporters. He also is considered an important stimulus for yesterday’s high voter turnout in African-American neighborhoods of Pennsylvania’s two largest cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Despite this, Professor Allen says his campaign was jeopardized in Pennsylvania by having to diffuse widely criticized comments depicting the bitterness of small town folks. For that reason, she says, his advisers recommended that the Harvard-law educated candidate refrain from matching the Clintons with an appearance at Pennsylvania’s prestigious Ivy League university where Mrs. Clinton spoke.

“There was a group of professors trying to get Obama to come and give a speech in our sports stadium here on Penn’s campus. And over 200 professors signed a petition urging him to come. And what we were told was that the rally on the (historic Independence) Mall was the substitute and that at a time when Obama was being accused of being an elitist person in Pennsylvania, it was more appropriate, perhaps, that he meet in a less symbolically elitist location than Penn’s campus,” she said.

Professor Allen points out that Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania victory most likely ensures she will continue to stay in the race into next month’s decisive primaries. “Hillary’s in this game if she wins Pennsylvania until the summer, I believe. But again, there will be some pressure on her to withdraw, but I think she can credibly stand up to that pressure if indeed she is the technical victor in Pennsylvania.”

The downside of prolonging the campaign is that “so much of the attention the media has given to the election has turned to negative campaigning, snide remarks, slips of the tongue, animosities which are exaggerated.”

However, Allen notes that if it turns out that one of them is doing less well, either after the primary season or toward the beginning of the convention, at that point, it would be a phenomenal thing if these two would decide to join forces, by sharing the ballot and running as President and Vice President “because there’s plenty of evidence here that a woman candidate and a black candidate can catalyze, can excite, and can promise a change of hope which we haven’t seen before. And they may have together skills and experience which would make the White House and Washington, DC in general a better place for all of us.”

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