3.28.2008

The Pennsylvania battle: Obama scores a major coup

Conventional wisdom has come to expect Clinton to post a strong showing in Pennsylvania, so much so that the real battle between the two Democrats has been displaced to May 6th. But the Pennsylvania primary is not for another 25 days, an eternity in politics. With Clinton facing increasing pressure to drop out of the race, can she really hold on to a convincing lead for that much time? That question is obviously crucial to Clinton's survival beyond April 22nd.

For now, there has been almost no movement in Pennsylvania polls -- and it has been 3 weeks the campaign has moved to this state. ARG just released a poll from Pennsylvania today:

  • It shows Hillary Clinton leading 51% to 39%, which is little movement from the 52% to 41% lead she possessed on March 7th.
  • Clinton's strength are women (61% to 30%) and white voters (60% to 30%).
But it is Obama who scored a major coup today by securing the endorsement (and superdelegate vote) of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. While Casey was only elected in 2006, defeating incumbent Republican Santorum, he possesses one of the state's most famous last names. His father, a longtime Governor, was very popular among the state's middle-class and downscale white voters, particularly inner suburbs Democrats who are typically vulnerable to Republican appeals on social issues like abortion. Both Caseys are famously pro-life.

Most of the state's establishment is lined up behind Clinton in a way that we did not see in other states. But Bob Casey's endorsement gives Obama cover in a constituency that has become crucial to both campaign's primary argument: Hillary Clinton's hope to reach the nomination is to question Obama's general election ability to win the votes of downscale whites (a group that has been reliably voting for her in the primaries). This is her main argument to superdelegates, and the electability argument she is hoping to drive home all the way to August to give the supers pause.

Casey is the type of politician who should be the most receptive to this type of argument due to his political positioning and the constituencies his family has worked to seduce the hardest. His rallying behind Obama not only suggests that the group of superdelegates Clinton needs the most are not buying her "downscale whites" argument, but it also leaves Hillary with little path to the nomination: If officials like Casey are comfortable moving to Obama, it could give cover to other superdelegates who are remaining uncommitted to move in Barack's direction.

The point here is not that Casey will help Obama win Pennsylvania (he is, after all, a 2-year Senator), but Casey's endorsement is a major coup for Obama in the battle of superdelegates.

None of this guarantees that Obama will have a good April 22nd. But he does not necessarily need to. Rather, he is hoping that the Pennsylvania campaign shows that he is capable of winning over lower-class voters. He has not shown much evidence of that for now, except in Wisconsin. And unless he does in Pennsylvania, the Clinton campaign will see little reason of withdrawing from the race. And in the fight for votes, Obama has one more advantage: The NYT reports that he has outspent Hillary Clinton 3:1 in ads in the state.

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