PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Barack Obama on Friday drew 35,000 people to a rally on the historic grounds surrounding Independence Hall, where he told the adoring crowd, “We’re still the underdog here in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania votes Tuesday, and Obama’s team will call it a victory if he keeps Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to a single-digit lead.
(column from the Sunday print Sun-Times)
“We want to be very focused here and narrow the margin as much as we can,” Obama chief strategist David Axelrod said Friday. “We want to finish this out the right way.”
If she can’t win in Pennsylvania, Clinton will lose the rationale that has kept her candidacy alive while Obama has surged.
The Keystone State has presented challenges to Obama, and that’s why he was talking Friday about being the underdog: Voters here are older, more blue collar and conservative, not his best demographic. Independents and Republicans, unlike in other states, can’t decide at the last minute to cross over and vote for Obama in the Democratic contest, so Obama’s post-partisan pitch is of more limited appeal.
But Obama overall is the front-runner, positioned to be the Democratic nominee because he has more delegates and more superdelegate potential.
Clinton must have a blowout win to remain viable. At stake are 158 Pennsylvania delegates and, most valuable, momentum. A strong showing in Pennsylvania could address concerns regarding Obama’s electability in a big state and perhaps persuade undecided superdelegates — political leaders and elected officials — to get off the fence.
Obama has been pouring considerable resources into Pennsylvania, in part because there has been time — the last elections were March 4 — to put together a full campaign.
With weeks between races, “You have more time to talk to people, to talk to voters with your grass roots, and that has an impact,” said Paul Tewes, one of Obama’s chief field organizers in Pennsylvania, repeating a role he had in Iowa, Nevada and Ohio.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter — himself a young, change-oriented politician — support Clinton. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is backing Obama. To do well, said Larry Ceisler, a Democratic analyst, Obama must “roll up big numbers” in Philadelphia and its most Democratic suburbs, which have become the battleground for Obama and Clinton.
During the Pennsylvania campaign, several challenges emerged: Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his remarks about blue-collar Pennsylvanians being “bitter” so they “cling” to guns and God, and his lackluster debate performance Wednesday.
On Thursday, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer — raising expectations for Obama — said Obama should be expected to do well because of “earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping, extraordinary spending by the Obama campaign.” Obama is outspending Clinton by at least a 2-to-1 margin, maybe more.