Fight gets ugly but knockout unlikely

DEMOCRAT RACE IN PENNSYLVANIA

Hillary is expected to win but may not succeed in cutting rival Obama’s lead.

THERE won’t be a knockout in the Pennsylvania presidential primary later today.

All indications thus far are that Mrs Hillary Clinton, the New York Senator, will win the race but not by a sufficiently large margin to overtake her rival Barack Obama in a crucial numbers game that will determine which candidate will represent the Democratic Party in the November elections.

Several polls show her with a lead over Mr Obama of five or six percentage points, down from about 16 points only weeks ago.

Strategists from both sides agree the race is narrowing. But Mrs Clinton faces the bigger challenge.

Political observers say she needs either the nationwide popular vote or the delegate count to make the case that she should be the Democrat nominee. To overtake the African-American senator in the nationwide popular vote, Mrs Clinton needs a bigger win in Pennsylvania than she has had in any major contest so far. After more than 40 Democratic primaries and caucuses, Mr Obama leads her by more than 800,000 votes.

Even if the New York senator wins by more than 20 percentage points tomorrow – a landslide that few observers expect – she would still have a hard time catching her rival.

Mrs Clinton needs “blowout numbers”, said Mr Peter Fenn, a Democratic consultant. “The wheels would have to come off the Obama bus, and the engine would have to blow.”

A popular-vote victory is vital to Mrs Clinton’s chances because she is likely to end the primaries still trailing Mr Obama in the race for delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

According to an unofficial tally by the Associated Press, Mr Obama currently leads by a margin of 1,645 to 1,504 among pledged delegates and those superdelegates – elected and party officials who get an automatic vote on the nomination – who have indicated a preference. It will take 2,025 delegates to win the nomination.

Mrs Clinton is also being left behind on the money trail. According to the latest campaign finance reports, she raised US$20 million (S$27 million) in March and had US$9 million for the primary available at the beginning of this month. But she also reported debts of US$10.3 million, putting her in the red.

Mr Obama, on the other hand, raised US$41 million in March and has US$42 million – five times more than his rival – available to spend.

The money put him in a position to undertake an expensive campaign in Pennsylvania, where he outspent Mrs Clinton to cut into her lead.

With just a day to go before the crucial vote, the two candidates, particularly Mr Obama, have sharpened their attacks on each other.

Far more than at any other time in the campaign, he has applied pressure on Mrs Clinton, both on the stump and in his increasingly negative advertising, reflecting his desire to bring the long nomination battle to a close quickly.

He is also seeking to overcome any doubts that the remaining uncommitted superdelegates might have about his toughness as a candidate. Mr Obama has questioned whether Mrs Clinton is honest and trustworthy and cast her as a practitioner of old-style, special-interest politics.

Speaking on Sunday, he accused her of using a “kitchen-sink” strategy of negative attacks aimed at him and said to his opponent: “You learnt the wrong lessons from those Republicans who were going after you in the same way using the same tactics all those years. I don’t want us to become like them. I want us to change the country.”

Mrs Clinton called her rival’s approach “so negative” and charged him with mimicking Republicans by attacking her plan for universal health care.

ODDS OF VICTORY

“The wheels would have to come off the Obama bus, and the engine would have to blow.”
MR PETER FENN, a Democratic consultant, on what Mrs Clinton needs in order to beat Mr Obama

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