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Voters Cast Ballots in Hard-fought Pa. Primary

April 22, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made final pitches to Pennsylvanians Tuesday in the hopes to sway still-undecided voters as they headed to the polls. Political analysts examine the day in voting.

GWEN IFILL: Even as Pennsylvanians went to the polls today, the two Democrats in this fiercely fought contest just kept right on pitching.

Barack and Michelle Obama filled a University of Pittsburgh arena last night, and today they went to a local diner for a pancake breakfast. While there, he took questions from reporters.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: We feel good about the organization we put together. We think we made enormous progress. As I’ve said before, it’s an uphill battle. Senator Clinton had a 20-point lead to start with. We think we’ve closed it, but we still, I think, have to consider ourselves the underdogs.

A lot of it’s going to depend on turnout. It’s a beautiful day. We think we have the best organization on the ground. So who knows? I’ve come to the conclusion that this race will continue until the last primary or caucus vote is cast. And that’s not that far away.

And, in the meantime, what we’re doing is making sure that every single voter in America has a chance to participate in the primaries. And the bright side of that is that we’re seeing record turnouts, record involvement. We’re building organizations that are getting tested.

Should I end up being the nominee, the work that we’ve done here in Pennsylvania I think will be extraordinarily helpful in the general election.

I think we can win no matter what the results. The polling shows we can win no matter what the results. You know, when I’m the nominee, Ed Rendell is going to be working for me just as hard as he’s been working for Senator Clinton. There’s going to be a clear contrast between the economic message of the Democrats and the Republicans.

And so this whole notion that somehow, because there are some voters, whether it’s older voters or blue-collar workers, who prefer Senator Clinton over me that somehow that means I can’t get their vote, that just doesn’t — it isn’t borne out by the polling, and it’s not borne out by I think the history of people’s voting patterns.

The party is going to come together after the nomination is settled.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Obama is spending election night in Indiana, where the next round of presidential voting is held in two weeks. Hillary Clinton will be in Philadelphia tonight.

She spent part of her day in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, where she, too, spoke about party unity.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we have a Democrat sworn in on January 20, 2009. I obviously hope to be that Democrat, but we will have a unified Democratic Party.

And I will make the strongest possible case across this country that whatever differences Senator Obama and I may have — and we do have them, and it is perfectly legitimate for us to talk about them, explain them, compare and contrast us — that pales in comparison to the differences we have with Senator McCain.

I am a colleague and a friend of Senator McCain’s. I respect and honor his service to our country. But he has the wrong ideas for America.

And I think anyone who supported either Barack or me would, you know, be very foolish to think that voting for Senator McCain made any sense. Because for whatever reason you might have voted for a Democrat, that would be totally wiped out were a Republican to come back into the White House.

As I have said, this is going to be a tough-fought, close election. I happen to think I’m the stronger candidate against Senator McCain. And, therefore, I’m going to fight out this nomination process to win the nomination, to go toe-to-toe with Senator McCain.

But regardless of what happens, I’m going to work my heart out to make sure we elect a Democrat.

I think a win is a win. And maybe I’m old-fashioned about that, but you run a very competitive race at a considerable financial disadvantage. And I think maybe the question ought to be, why can’t he close the deal? With his extraordinary financial advantage, why can’t he win a state like this one, if that’s the way it turns out?

Obviously, we still have a long way to go before people finish voting and the votes are counted, but this will be one more in a long line of big states, states that Democrats have to win. You know, the road to the White House for a Democrat leads right through Pennsylvania to Pennsylvania Avenue.

'Battle of demographics'

GWEN IFILL: Joining me here in Pittsburgh to delve a little more deeply into the voting that will determine tonight's outcome in Pennsylvania are Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, and Shirley Anne Warshaw, professor of political science at Gettysburg College.

Stu, as you look at the state of Pennsylvania, the state of Pennsylvania, and you figure out who the voters are who are going to the polls today -- we know the turnout was heavy -- who are the people who Barack Obama needs or who are the people who Hillary Clinton needs in order to win?

STUART ROTHENBERG, Rothenberg Political Report: Well, Gwen, once again, we have a battle of demographics here. Each candidate is strong among particular constituencies.

In the case of Barack Obama, he needs a big turnout, obviously, among African-American voters. He needs to do well with upscale, highly educated, affluent voters, particularly in the southeastern corner of the state. And he needs to get a whole bunch of new voters, younger voters, people who are energized and excited by him.

For Senator Clinton, she's got to go back to her bread and butter, the same voters she's been getting in state after state. That would be older voters, white Catholics, ethnics, blue-collar voters, lunch-bucket Democrats.

And so the question is really, in terms of the total number of voters, but also of turnout. Which of these groups turns out in biggest numbers?

GWEN IFILL: Professor Warshaw, based on what we know about Pennsylvania, it sounds to me like it's, based on what Stu just said, that's Hillary Clinton land?

SHIRLEY ANNE WARSHAW, Gettysburg College: Well, it is Hillary Clinton land, a lot of it. Pennsylvania is a T, with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh anchoring the bottom. They're very urban areas, which Barack Obama is largely likely to do well in.

Rural areas up the center, and across the top with Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and she's very likely to do well there.

One quarter of the vote, however, is in Philadelphia. And if he can pull out the Philadelphia vote and the suburbs, there are another 800,000 people in the suburbs. It's a huge area for Barack Obama.

If he can win that and win the southern tier, the Lancaster, York, Reading area, Harrisburg -- the mayors of Lancaster, York, Reading came out for Barack Obama, very surprisingly, when many mayors did go for Hillary Clinton.

Obama making up ground

GWEN IFILL: Well, let's talk about some of these political allegiances, because we saw some unexpected allegiances. We saw that Senator Bob Casey, who's from Scranton, I believe...

SHIRLEY ANNE WARSHAW: Right, absolutely.

GWEN IFILL: ... who endorsed Barack Obama, and we saw Governor Rendell, who's from Philadelphia, endorse Hillary Clinton.

SHIRLEY ANNE WARSHAW: It's interesting. To some extent, it's a battle of the political machines, because Governor Rendell absolutely works very closely with Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia, so one would have thought that the Philadelphia machine would be going for Barack Obama, but it turns out not to be true. In fact, many in Philadelphia are supporting Barack Obama.

Senator Bob Casey from Scranton has muted much of her support in a very, as Stu said, a very working-class, Catholic area. And that's been very, very important to Barack Obama up there.

GWEN IFILL: Stu, 300,000 new Democratic voters registered just between January and March to vote, some of them Republicans, some of them independents, all now voting in the Democratic primary. Is there any way to gauge what effect that will have?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I don't think we can ever know. I think in the past we have seen that newer voters tend to be younger voters, people who are not traditional participants, they tend to be personality driven, more likely to be excited by Barack Obama, his personal charisma, his desire for change.

These are people who are -- as I say, they're not traditional voters, so they're not part of the system. So they should react to his message.

But, Gwen, as you point out, some of these -- there may be some strategic voting, where Republicans are switching to vote in the Democratic race to pick a candidate that maybe they'd like to face in the general election. I don't think a lot of that goes on, but it could happen.

A 'more Democratic' Ohio

GWEN IFILL: What kind of state is Pennsylvania traditionally? When we've watched Pennsylvania, mostly in general elections, in the past several cycles, what makes it such a tipping point today?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, really, Pennsylvania is Ohio, but not quite as Republican, a little more Democratic. It has actually been swinging a bit more Democratic recently over the past few election cycles.

There was a time, if you looked at the statewide elected officials, governors and certainly senators, they were all Republicans, and yet the state was much more competitive.

But I went and looked at some census data, looking at the national numbers, the Ohio numbers, and the Pennsylvania numbers, and it's remarkable how close Pennsylvania is to Ohio, in terms of age, much older population than the country as a whole.

In terms of income and traditional demographics, African-Americans, for example, it is a whiter state than nationally and much like Ohio. So that's why I think a lot of us figure this ought to be Hillary Clinton's state.

GWEN IFILL: On the other hand -- I feel like I'm doing "on the other hand" all night -- Professor, I saw 22 percent of the state's voting population is in the city.


GWEN IFILL: Yet we saw a poll last week where the hunters and the bowlers are all going to vote for Hillary Clinton.

SHIRLEY ANNE WARSHAW: Absolutely. Absolutely. She has absolutely captured much of the central part of the state, which is very rural, as Stu said, typically has voted Republican.

In most gubernatorial, senatorial, presidential races, which we've very much seen, it's the T, the center part of Pennsylvania, the top tier voting Republican, and the two wings, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, voting Democratic.

She actually has moved into that traditionally Republican area, captured much of that vote, and the challenge -- and he's captured the two cities. The challenge for Barack Obama is being able to go into the T, to go into the lower part, the Harrisburg, Lancaster, York, Allentown area, and to go into Scranton.

Overall, 'very diverse state'

GWEN IFILL: What are the issues that work in those areas?

SHIRLEY ANNE WARSHAW: Well, clearly, religion has been very interesting, that this is an area that is very evangelical, to a large part. Much of the T in the Scranton area is very Catholic, two areas which he's actually captured.

Recently, they both did a Compassion Forum and talked about their commitment to religion. And that was a very carefully scripted effort on both their parts to show that, "I have religion in my heart. I am part of that central Pennsylvania," in general, which they really hadn't talked about before. And that was specifically targeted to the Pennsylvania T.

STUART ROTHENBERG: There's certainly cultural issues and religious issues, but also guns is a huge issue in Pennsylvania. I used to teach in Bucknell. It was a joke about the community would close down when bow and arrow season came and when hunting season came.

GWEN IFILL: But it plays differently in Bucknell than it does in Philadelphia, where gun crime is such a problem.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. But one reason why it was so controversial when Barack Obama talked about certain bitter groups in rural America and they clutched their guns is that, in the parts of the state where Senator Clinton should do well, this kind of controversy would strengthen her.

But you're right. There are portions in southeastern corner of the state, and not just inner-city Philadelphia. We're talking about the suburbs, the upscale, used to be Republican, now moving Democratic suburbs, those suburban voters, they're not packing heat most of the time. They're going to Starbucks.

So you're right. This is a very diverse state.

GWEN IFILL: OK. So that's what we'll be watching for tonight. And I'll come back and hold you all to it. Thank you both very much, Shirley Ann Warshaw, Stuart Rothenberg.