Primary update: Stunner in Pennsylvania

Yesterday, two polls showed Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania lead shrinking in what is a must-win state for her campaign; yet, she kept her lead in a contest in which conventional wisdom, demographics and all polls holds her to be a heavy favorite. But today, we get a stunner:

  • A PPP survey shows Barack Obama edging out Clinton 45% to 43%. Three weeks ago, PPP showed Clinton up by 26%. And he still has room to grow among black voters (75%).
  • Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac survey shows Clinton maintaining a 9% lead, 50% to 41%. She ties Obama among men and leads comfortably among women. But the Quinnipiac survey was conducted from the 24th to the 31st, and thus would not have recorded the trends of the past few days as well.
The PPP survey is clearly an outlier. The closest Obama has ever come in the Keystone state is 5% (Rasmussen's survey released yesterday). But the poll is nevertheless very significant. For one, it does confirm that Clinton's numbers are quickly declining in Pennsylvania numbers over the past week.

Second, a poll like PPP's will be seen by superdelegates and will not help Clinton's effort to convince them to hold on from considering the race as having ended. The continuing drumbeat of tightening polls will only increase the pressures on the candidate to withdraw from the race, though if the Obama campaign is confident of its chances to finish Clinton off on April 22nd (a tight loss would probably also be sufficient), it could ease the pressure to not antagonize Hillary further.

One major factor in this development is that Obama is massively outspending Clinton on Pennsylvania TV -- just as he did in Ohio and in Texas -- and that is bound to move numbers. In fact, the situation has become very similar to that of Ohio in late February: The New York Senator needs to win at least by double-digits and she started with very strong numbers that have been eroding ever since.

Now remember that Clinton pulled off a remarkable comeback in the last few days of the Ohio campaign, pulling out a double digit win after all. Though she was leading by that much two weeks prior to Election Day, her strength was unexpected by March 4th and she greatly benefited from her win. Now the same dynamic could emerge in Pennsylvania: Obama is tightening the race early enough that expectations could have time to shift in the next 20 days.

If the next few polls confirm that Pennsylvania is competitive, Obama will be forced to pay attention to it and the Keystone state will become a contest to watch, something it has not been over the past two weeks as the Obama campaign has dismissed its importance and insisted on May 6th instead. This can only be a blessing for the Clinton campaign: A loss here would be instant death anyway, whether or not people are paying close attention, so Clinton might as well heighten the stakes to get as much dividends as possible from a large victory.

Needless to say that, despite this slightly comforting thought, the four PA polls that all show a tightening race over the past 2 days are not the kind of news Hillary wants right now, and they open the door to the race ending on April 22nd (something that had been looking rather unlikely as of last week).

Clinton can at least take comfort in a new SUSA poll from Indiana:

  • She leads 52% to 43%. As expected, her strongest area is Southern Indiana, where she leads Obama by 23%. The Appalachian range has been particularly disastrous for the Illinois Senator.
This is the first public poll from Indiana since a mid-February little-reported survey showed Obama leading. And it should set some expectations in a contest about which no one really knows what to think. In fact, Indiana is often described as the only upcoming primary which neither candidate is favored to win. If Clinton wins and performs very strongly in the South of the state, she could step up her argument about sections of the country remaining very uncomfortable with the Illinois Senator.

Meanwhile, Obama got two important endorsements today. The first is Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, a superdelegate who praised Obama's "skill to end this vicious cycle of business as usual." Count one more convention vote for Barack. The second is Lee Hamilton, a former Representative from Indiana (think May 6th...) who is particularly high-profile on national security issues, since he was the leading Democrat on the 9-11 Commission and on the Iraq Study Group.

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  • I agree the PPP poll is probably an outlier; although you didn't consider the PPP poll two weeks ago showing Clinton with a 26% lead as having any problem. The recent polls do show stong evidence of a tighting race in PA.It will be much harder for Clinton to duplicate Ohio because Obama was only able to spend four days campaingning there before the election and here he is spending much more time in the field. It will be interesting to see Clinton supporters, in the next few days, desperately lowering expectations from a double-digit win to just a win. Anything less than a double-digit win for Clinton will be considered a loss no matter how the Clinton's spin it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 14:54  

  • "Stunner" is not the term I would have used. "Outlier" is probably more accurate.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 02 April, 2008 15:17  

  • Check out Hillary Clinton on You Tube poking fun at Gandhi....
    I dare you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 16:06  

  • To Anonymous 14:54

    There are still three weeks and a debate left until the Primary in Pennsylvania. I agree with you that anything less than a double digit win is not gonna be a "real" win.

    But I also tell you this. She WILL win and she will win by double digits the same way she did in Ohio and I'd even dare to say better than Ohio. This is now the time voters flirt with the idea of voting for Obama. But just like almost every other major Primary, the late deciders will--after considering their options--turn to Hillary again.

    The last week is the week the polls will break for Hillary in double digits just like Ohio, Massachusetts, California etc,.

    Now that would be a "win" and considering the time and money Obama has spent in the state, what a win it would be for Hillary and her supporters.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 17:41  

  • This is typical Clinton stuff - start well ahead, have establishment support (Governor etc - both PA and OH) and then win but by much less than originally thought. OH was barely double digit - 10.5%! Bearing in mind Obama campaigns in every state and Clinton only in those that are either crucial or she has the advantage - she ignored VA and MA and barely did anything in WI until scolded by the press. These three states have more EV's than FL and two of them are regular Democratic voting states. To say you want to be President of the USA and ignore three large states (not in the magical top 10 but top 20) is wrong.

    She lead throughout 2007 and then people see Obama and his number increase. Remember TX was meant to be in the bag for her due to the Latino vote etc - she won by 4%!

    She should win PA by 15% to claim a big victory. Obama has won multiple states 20%+ - like WI, VA, MD which were all primaries (not caucuses).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 18:12  

  • Obama hasn`t been campaigning until recently - he has been on vacation and his campaign have been busy registering new voters.

    Only now does he start campaigning and then numbers improve. It is legitimate for him to spend money on ads. The Clinton's would do it if they had the money. They only complain because their supporters are less numerous and enthusiast. Obama relies on millions of small donations not PAC or corporate money.

    Will Clinton complain in November if McCain outspends her? - stop whining.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 18:17  

  • anon 17:41; You may be right but the six week campaingn makes PA much different than Ohio and maybe more like Iowa. The big advantage Hillary has in PA is that it is a closed state; Dems only.
    Chuck Todd had an interesting comment tonight; superdelegate that was going to go to Hillary would have declared early; thus her big lead at the start. Those undecided left after supertuesday lean to Obama but didn't want to upset the Clintons if possible. The fact that those declared since supertuesday are Obama +55-60, Clinton -5 supports this theory.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 02 April, 2008 20:25  

  • Obama is a loser in the general, and the Florida polls show this. He has mishandled this, and seems to be ceding the state to McCain. Where will the 25 electoral votes come from if Obama is the nominee? What other states? This reminds me of McGovern--he'll expand the party base by bringing in new voters. How'd that work out in 1972?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 April, 2008 01:17  

  • First, McGovern did not expand the party base at all nor did he proclaim to. So, this argument is a non-sequitor.

    Second, John Kerry came within 60,000 votes of winning the GE in 2004 without FL. A DEM can win without FL.

    Third, the fact that he is hanging so tough in polling still almost one month after the so-called "Wright-Flap" and improving in some states while tanking in other shows clearly that he is every bit as strong a candidate in the GE as Clinton.

    By Blogger Mark, At 03 April, 2008 06:09  

  • Honesty is still the best policy.Dodging bullets in Bosnia is certainly not honest. Lying about something that didnot happen is not honest.Telling people only what they want to hear is not honest.hiding the truth is not honest.how can we trust Hillary when she does not know how to be honest? WE say NO to Hillary to Hillary Dishonesty.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 April, 2008 11:41  

  • PPP has been a wacko lately. For NC, they could show a 20% movement in 1 week, and in PA, they show nearly 30% movement in a couple weeks? They must have the strangest turnout models or the oddest way to sample people, because their sample sizes are actually decent.

    When *any* pollster can show 20% movement in 1 week (without a major crisis occurring), that pollster's credibility comes into play.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 April, 2008 20:38  

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