Clinton up double-digits in PA, where Obama has 10 days for party registration

The week's first Pennsylvania survey, released two days ago by SUSA, showed Hillary Clinton up 19%. Outlier, baseline number or sign of a real advantage for the New York Senator? Two new surveys out this morning help us answer the question, as they confirm that Clinton has a clear lead in the state with still 6 weeks to go:

  • Strategic Vision shows Clinton leading 56% to 38%, roughly the same margin as SUSA's.
  • Rasmussen, meanwhile, comes out with a slightly smaller edge, 51% to 38%, on the strength of a 25% lead among women (and she reaches 69% among white women).
While there is still 6 weeks to go before the vote, the situation should not be compared to that of, say, Missouri and California in mid-December, and that for obvious reasons: People are now following the campaign much more closely than they were then, and Obama has gained considerable support nationwide already in the past month. Obama clearly has room to grow in the state, but it would be a mistake to assume that his rise will be as automatic as it was in the Feb. 5th and March 4th states (before Clinton fought back in Ohio).

Naturally, Obama has much more time to make numbers move in Pennsylvania than he did in these other states, and he has a significant financial advantage that he can put to use to run ads -- not to mention organize the state. And here is the first challenge Obama has to meet: Pennsylvania holds a closed primary, so only registered Democrat can vote on April 22nd. Now, Obama has only won three closed primary up until today, and he usually is boosted by independent and Republican votes to get over the finish line. Even when Obama beats Clinton among registered Dems according to exit polls, the margin tends to be much smaller in that group.

The first deadline Obama has to meet, therefore, is March 24th: Until that day, Pennsylvania voters can switch their party registration and make it qualify for the April 22nd primary. In the next two weeks, the campaign is therefore going to identify as many independents and Republicans as possible that want to vote for Barack and convince them to change their affiliation. This will obviously not be easy since not many non-Democrats will not agree to suddenly become one.

Naturally, this means that Obama has also the potential of a much bigger coup on April 22nd: If he wins Pennsylvania, he can boast that he triumphed in a big state and that he did so in a closed primary, among voters that are supposed to favor his opponent. Though we should qualify the importance of any such spin: If Clinton loses PA, she would likely quit the race anyway, whatever the symbol, the margin or the spin.

One last note on Pennsylvania, where Strategic Vision also released general election numbers that are even weaker for Democrats than those published yesterday by Rasmussen:

  • McCain is leading Clinton 48% to 42%, and Obama 47% to 44%.
As I said yesterday, Pennsylvania surveys are consistently showing McCain very competitive, much more so than in other states. This could become a huge headache for Democrats, as any edge they might develop in Ohio (where they usually look better) will be destroyed by having to defend Pennsylvania and possibly losing it. Democrats better hope that spending 6 weeks in Pennsylvania organizing and airing ads increases their exposure and puts them in a much better shape for November.

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  • maybe the obama camp is finally realizing that movement too early in these double digit states creates unrealistic. I think they are tanking for 7-10 days, let polls show hillary up 20+ and let the media set the expectations from there. Also, it seems Obama peaked too early in OH & TX.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 March, 2008 11:58  

  • Fair point but I don't know how much control a campaign has to actually create movement - it usually is a combination of current news events, your opponents campaign and yours.
    Lets see what happens but i agree with taniel's main point that Obama's scope to radically improve as he did in TX and elsewhere from large deficits is limited now. That being said he doesn't need to win PA, just make sure Clinton doesn`t gain too many delegates or net votes.

    By Anonymous Guy, At 13 March, 2008 13:18  

  • As the US economy tanks, there is a perception that Hillary is best suited to deal with the problem. As well, the wars are quite at the moment (dispite a recent poorly reported increase in US deaths). With six weeks before the primary there is likley to be at least a dozen Ferraro style political eruptions, on both sides, to change the polls. I can't see much more growth for Hillary, but Obama can close the gap somewhat; especially if the war heats up. I don't see how he can change his economic perception problem.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 March, 2008 13:50  

  • I agree that Clinton is ahead on the economic competence issue but it is tied in with the general feeling that she has a lot of experience. As that argument gets picked at (recent reports about helping in Northern Ireland etc) come out and disprove that she has lots of experience or has passed some imaginary threshold to be C in C. You will see her lead on the economy decline.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 13 March, 2008 18:26  

  • FYI: you can control movement by

    a) not touring (he hasn't yet to my knowledge)

    b) no ads (same as above)

    i think he probably realizes he can at best get within 5 pts in PA (more likely 10) and doesn't want to move too early and cause unrealistic expectations (see Ohio)

    By Blogger ron, At 14 March, 2008 08:23  

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