The Obama campaign looks to lower expectation in Pennsylvania one last time. Here’s the latest memo from Bill Burton:
With all eyes on today’s contest, one thing is clear: Pennsylvania is considered a state tailor-made for Hillary Clinton, and by rights she should win big. She has family roots in the state, she has the support of the Democratic establishment—including Governor Rendell’s extensive network—and former President Clinton is fondly remembered.
Clinton has been leading by large margins in Pennsylvania. In the weeks leading up to the primary, she led by as much as 25 points. They were so confident that their own Pennsylvania spokesman said Clinton would be “unbeatable” in Pennsylvania—regardless of spending by her opponent. [Washington Post, 3/7/08]
But as he has done in every state, Senator Obama campaigned hard and tapped into the hunger for change at grassroots, looking to pick up as many delegates as possible. Old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigning, in the face of unrelenting negative attacks from Senator Clinton, substantially closed a once-formidable gap.
There has been much speculation about what each campaign needs coming out of tonight. The facts, however, are simple.
Behind in delegates and sporting a 14-30 primary record (not good enough even to make the playoffs in the NBA Eastern Conference), the Clinton campaign needs a blowout victory in Pennsylvania to get any closer to winning the nomination. Even President Clinton said that only a “big, big victory” will give her the boost she needs.
The Philadelphia Inquirer observed that there is “consensus” that Clinton has to “take the state big, perhaps by double digits, to be able to claim that she’d won it a way that matters in the overall nomination struggle—given her deficits in both the delegate race and the overall popular vote.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/3/08]
That’s exactly right. And Clinton’s own supporters have been predicting big wins. Governor Ed Rendell and Congressman Jack Murtha—no strangers to Pennsylvania politics—have both predicted runaway wins for her. [MTP, 4/6/08, MSNBC, 4/1/08]
The Clinton campaign has been trying to spin away their earlier confidence and move the goalposts for victory in Pennsylvania. But the bottom line is that if Senator Clinton is going to make meaningful inroads in this race for delegates, she will need a huge margin in Pennsylvania.
The Race Beyond Tonight
Tonight’s outcome is unlikely to change the dynamic of this lengthy primary. Fully three quarters of the remaining delegates will be selected in states other than Pennsylvania. While there are 158 delegates at stake in today’s primary, there are 157 up for grabs in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries two weeks from today. We expect that by tomorrow morning, the overall structure of the race will remain unchanged—except for the fact that there will be 158 delegates off the table.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Clinton campaign once again tries to change the metrics by which the race is measured. They used to stress repeatedly that, in Howard Wolfson’s words “[t]his is a race for delegates.” [Washington Post, 1/16/08] Recently, they have attempted to shift the focus to the popular vote, and the specious argument that primary wins in big states equate to electoral vote pickups in the general election. They do not.
Our strategy has always been to gain as many delegates as possible—an important point to remember going forward. If this race had focused on the popular vote, we would have campaigned non-stop in California, for example, and run up our numbers even higher in Senator Obama’s home state of Illinois. But we focused on delegates because, simply, delegates decide the Democratic nominee.
But even if we were to judge the primary on the popular vote, we anticipate having a comfortable lead when voting in the last nine contests wraps up in June. Senator Obama will continue to gain strength with Democratic superdelegates. He will maintain his position as the best candidate to take on John McCain. And he will be ready to unite the American people and begin a new chapter in our history.
We are already organizing vigorously in the remaining contests, opening local offices, canvassing, and engaging voters in this unprecedented campaign. We will have the financial resources we need to be competitive. Our message will be the same one that Senator Obama enunciated fourteen months ago and has shared with voters every day since: that the size of the challenges we face has outgrown the smallness of our politics, and this election is our chance to change that.