One of the most startling revelations to come out of the April 22 Pennsylvania primary is that most major media outlets in the state and across the country can't do simple math.
In the hours and days after the polls closed, media accounts touted Clinton's alleged "double-digit" win in the state, though the margin shrank somewhat by the time the votes were all counted. "Would somebody correct that please," says Valerie McDonald Roberts, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama and head of the Allegheny County Real Estate office. "There's a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton's 10-point victory, but it was 9.2.
"And where I come from, 9.2 [rounds down to] 9. It's not 10."
And why is that 0.8 percentage point difference so important?
Polling in the early days of the election season showed Obama down by 20 points and more, McDonald Roberts notes. "And in six weeks he did more than just cut in half; he got it down to single digits, and that's significant."
Many storylines emerged from the primary election that thrust Pennsylvania into the national spotlight. CNN piled dozens of experts into its studios, all huddled around an electronic map of the state. Would Clinton get the massive victory she needed to get within striking distance of Obama, or would he pull out the underdog victory to close things out?
The answer to both questions would be "no." Whether you look at the delegate count or the total number of votes cast so far, Clinton barely made a dent in the lead Obama carried into the state. Obama has pledged delegates and superdelegates totaling 1,725 and Clinton has 1,588. But that doesn't mean Pennsylvania was meaningless.
Barbara Ernsberger, a Clinton backer and chair of the city Democratic Committee, says Pennsylvanians were treated to a hotly contested battle between two well-run campaigns. "I heard [Democratic Party head] Howard Dean say that this would be over in June. Dream on," says Ernsberger. "There are only two people who can end this and that's Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, and I don't know if that will happen.
"This race is so close that I think it will be hard to shut the other one out."
In fact, the primary gave Clinton a little more time on life support, and a $10 million fund-raising boost, according to her camp.
"The biggest thing that Pennsylvania did was keep this race alive," says G. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. "This race is now going to go until June, and that gives Clinton more time to hope that another situation like the 'bitter' comments [falls] onto Obama so she can try and convince superdelegates that Obama has issues with electability.
"Honestly, if voters in places like Iowa knew what they know now, I'm not convinced that Barack Obama would be the nominee."
Some Republicans also say the primary portends for potential Democratic weakness come November.
"I thought it would be closer, four points maybe," says Republican political consultant Bill Green. "A 10-point Clinton win is a massive victory. If we had a governor's race decided by 10 points, we'd call it a blowout.
"It says that a lot of Pennsylvania Democrats are satisfied with the party leadership and the status quo instead of something different. Look, I've been preaching this for years and nobody in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia gets it: Pennsylvania is a conservative state."
The numbers seem to bear that out. Obama managed to win just seven of the state's 67 counties. Madonna says that most shocking is that Obama lost Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, one of the state's most "affluent and liberal" counties. Additionally, it was thought that Obama would play well in other Philly-area counties, like Berks (where he lost by fewer than 10,000 votes) and Bucks, which he lost by an astounding 3-to-1.
"I think you can't at all discount the Ed Rendell factor in all of this," says Green of the state's governor, who backs Clinton and who has long enjoyed considerable popularity in the counties surrounding Philadelphia, where he served two terms as mayor. "He brought his entire organization into this and he worked hard for Hillary Clinton. In fact, I don't think we've ever seen him work this hard, not even on his own races."
Similarly, McDonald Roberts lists three factors that played into Clinton's win: "First, there was the governor, then there was the governor and finally, the governor," she says. "He put his all into supporting Hillary Clinton, and his presence in the race had a very strong effect on supporters across the state."
Obama won the city of Pittsburgh with 53,271 to Clinton's 37,996, playing well not only in predominantly African-American communities, but also liberal affluent neighborhoods like Shadyside. Outside the city, however, Clinton appeared to win in a walk, especially in more rural counties. Obama lost by margins of 2-to-1 or greater in Armstrong, Fayette, Green, Washington, Venango, Clarion, Beaver, Lawrence, Mercer and Westmoreland counties.
But even if Clinton became the Democratic nominee, Green says, she wouldn't be able to easily succeed in counties such as Green and Fayette. Those counties are inhabited by "moderate to conservative blue-collar workers," says Green. "[They] are full of Reagan Democrats and believe me, John McCain appeals to Reagan Democrats.
"Even if the Democrats drag this out until June or July and settle it before the convention, whoever the nominee is will be exhausted. They're exhausted now." What's more, Green adds, "the longer the battle continues, the deeper the wounds get" for the Democrats. "Parties that don't unify, don't win. It's that simple."
Green continues, "In 1968, the Democrats were in a battle and lost the presidency. In 1976, it was the Republicans who lost because of divisiveness, and then in 1980, Carter and Kennedy got into it and that cost the Democrats the White House that year. ... McCain is going to come out of the gate, a fresh and attractive candidate. I think Pennsylvania in November, based on what we're seeing, is up for grabs."
Madonna agrees that Pennsylvania will be "as competitive as always" come November. But he says the Democratic Party momentum that has sprung up from this primary season should carry through.
"I do think the enthusiasm of Democratic voters will carry into the fall," Madonna says. "There are 300,000 newly registered Democrats who are excited and ready to go.
"There is the school of thought that either candidate could have a problem if the fight drags on, but the Democrats have an enthusiasm and voter organization that we haven't seen in a very long time."
Even so, McDonald Roberts says she would like the nomination fight to end now because of the "extremely negative" tone the campaign has taken on. "If it weren't for that negativity, I'd say let them fight it out until the convention," she says. "I've always believed that the collective good should supersede what's good for a particular individual."
Another question: If Obama gets the nomination, will Clinton's Pennsylvania supporters back him in November? A CNN exit poll on election night showed that a surprising 26 percent of Clinton supporters would support McCain over Obama if he is the nominee.
"He has a lot of work to do to reach out to those voters," says Madonna, who notes Obama lost some blue-collar counties by a 70-to-30 margin. "Indiana has a lot of those same types of voters and it will be interesting to see how he plays there in a couple of weeks.
"But the bottom line is, he still has a huge chunk of people who support him."
Some Obama supporters have expressed similar misgivings about Clinton winning the nomination. But even Green says he'd be surprised if all those Democrats flipped in November.
"These two are locked in a battle and their supporters are very passionate," Green explains. "But if you're a supporter of Obama or Clinton, you likely have very similar feelings to them on the war and on abortion. If that's the case, how could you vote for John McCain? Saying it in April and actually doing it in November are two very different things."
Ernsberger agrees: "November is a long way off and as long as the selection process is fair, I think that most in the Democratic Party will come around and vote for the nominee.
"During the primary, for example, I talked to a lot of people and asked who they were supporting," Ernsberger says. And in both camps, she explains, she met voters who told her that "what they really want to do is vote against John McCain."
- Barack Obama's Pennsylvania loss has him looking seriously at the country's remaining Primaries.