Spending and polls: Where things stand in Pennsylvania

Now less than 2 weeks from the Pennsylvania primary, the key question is whether Barack Obama should take seriously his chances in the Keystone state. With every poll showing a tightening race, the Obama campaign was picking up confidence until SUSA's survey yesterday showed Clinton jumping back up to an 18% race. Since then, the question has become whether SUSA's poll is an outlier, and while most other polls show a much tighter race SUSA's track record and turnout model have been good throughout these primaries.

Today, three Pennsylvania polls were released and tell differing stories -- though 2 out of 3 show Clinton on the rebound:

  • First came PPP which had published last week the first and only poll to show Obama ahead. Today, Clinton has taken back a narrow lead, 46% to 43%. She leads 53-36 among whites, Obama 74-17 among blacks.
  • Second, a Strategic Vision survey shows Clinton ahead 47% to 42%. Last week, her lead was slightly bigger, 49% to 41%.
  • Update: A third poll from Insider Advantage confirms yesterday's SUSA poll as Hillary has picked up to lead 48% to 38% -- roughly the threshold between a respectable showing and one that Obama can use to push her out of the race. Last week, Clinton's lead was reduced to 2%.
So where do things stand in Pennsylvania, and how much upward potential does Obama have? This question goes much beyond poll-centered musings: It is a crucial strategic question for the Obama campaign, which has to decide how much they should invest in the state in the coming 12 days and how long should their candidate spend campaigning in the state. If they decide that he has little chance of overtaking Clinton, they could resort to the strategy they had adopted for the first two weeks of the PA campaign: Ignore the primary and make it as irrelevant as possible, depriving Clinton of some of the momentum she would get out of a big victory.

But the Obama campaign is no longer holding back and now seems to be going all-out, at least on airwaves. He has outspent Clinton 3:1 for now, and he is currently spending a stunning $2.2 million a week on Pennsylvania airwaves, twice the total of his rival. And it is certainly not because Clinton isn't doing her best to stay in touch; in fact, she just launched 5 TV ads a few days ago, including one in Spanish.

The SEIU is doing its best to close the gap in Pennsylvania by canvassing on behalf of Obama and has decided (via Ben Smith) to spend $740,000 in its effort -- an even bigger financial hammer on Clinton's efforts. This should also help Obama improve his numbers among the constituency he needs the most on April 22nd -- blue collar voters. Obama's biggest preoccupation, beyond even winning, is demonstrating that he has appeal there as one of Clinton's major arguments to superdelegates is Obama's weakness among that group. This is evident by the type of ads Obama is running in Pennsylvania; presenting his latest clip, TPM notes that ads featuring big rallies have been replaced with "him talking sense to a small roomful of nodding voters."

In non-Pennsylvania primary news, note a new poll from North Carolina released last night by SUSA which shows Obama leading 49% to 39%, with a 22% Clinton lead among whites. This is the lower end of Obama's winning margins that we have seen in the past weeks; it is safe to say that any double-digit Obama victory here would be dangerous for Clinton, especially if it is accompanied by inroads among white or downscale voters by Obama.

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  • He's spending 3 to 1 and still losing. I don't think he can afford to not take it seriously.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 April, 2008 20:50  

  • Insider advantage released a Pennsylvania poll this afternoon which shows Clinton ahead by 10. Real Clear Politics says Clinton has halted her slide in PA polls.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 April, 2008 21:20  

  • I think a good reason why Clinton is starting to tick back up is because her own controversies (i.e. Bosnia sniper shooting) is becoming old news and it not dragging her down as much in a state that is naturally predisposed to Clinton. I do think that she will get much momemntun unless its at least a 15% win and any real chance of causing doubts in Obama would require a 20% or bigger win, which will almost certainly not happen.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 09 April, 2008 22:35  

  • I don't think one can conclude much of a trend from the Strategic Vision surveys since their numbers are within each other's margins of error.

    By Blogger dsimon, At 09 April, 2008 23:53  

  • PA is, demographically, directly in the middle of the racial gap. I am sure that Obama never really thought he would have a chance to win here in a state that is Clinton's neighboring state. This does not mean, however, that he couldn't win PA in the fall. He can.

    He doesn't need to win PA, he only needs to keep her lead as lean as possible. And his pending landslide in NC practically erases any gains of hers in PA.

    By Blogger Mark, At 10 April, 2008 03:43  

  • I agree - Obama will erase his loss in PA by his victory in NC. NC is 3/4 of the size of PA so only needs to win a little more there than he lost by to achieve that.

    I am not surprised that Obama is competing in PA fully - it fits his MO of campaigning in every state. Clinton is the one who picks and chooses which states to campaign and compete in. She virtually ignored Democratic states like Maryland and Wisconsin and potential swing state of Virginia. Collectively many more EV's than PA (or FL).

    If Obama loses PA by 10 that will be a good result - money can only do so much. Ask Mitt Romney about that!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 April, 2008 08:18  

  • Considering Clinton's Brand name, i am surprised she did not win yet against 'somebody that we don't know much about'

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 10 April, 2008 14:15  

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