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Delegate-Rich Pa. Suburbs Prove to Be Major Battlegrounds

April 21, 2008 at 6:45 PM EDT
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Two Philadelphia congressmen explain how the delegate-rich Philadelphia suburbs may play a crucial role in determining the outcome of Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, where polls show support is closely split between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Continuing our trip east across the Keystone State, we come to Philadelphia and its populous suburbs. That’s where I spent the weekend.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton journeyed into the heart of the state’s most competitive region this weekend.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Now it is our turn, Pennsylvania. Now it is our turn. Now, there is a — I’ve said this before throughout this campaign. This is a defining moment in our history. All of you are here because you can feel it.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Now, I’m really happy that Pennsylvania’s going to get to vote. Some people didn’t want your vote to count for very much, but I said, “Wait a minute. I don’t see how any Democrat gets to Pennsylvania Avenue without going through Pennsylvania, so let’s go compete in Pennsylvania.”

GWEN IFILL: These Philadelphia suburbs, a collection of picturesque towns and bedroom communities, could well decide the outcome of Tuesday’s primary. To get to the bottom of the tug-of-war playing out here, we visited with two of the areas freshman members of Congress, Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran…

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), Pennsylvania: And I know you’re about to go and knock on some doors and ready to kick some butt about there, so thanks for doing what you’re doing.

GWEN IFILL: … and Joe Sestak, a retired admiral.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), Pennsylvania: And so my take on it is, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, from where I am in the Congress now, I really need someone who understands this country, understands us, and can get it going the very first day.

GWEN IFILL: Both beat Republicans in close races here in 2006. Now Sestak is with Clinton…

REP. JOE SESTAK: May I therefore introduce to you the next commander-in-chief of the United States military, Senator Clinton.

GWEN IFILL: … and Murphy’s with Obama.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY: Let’s get out there. Let’s get out there and let people know why we’re supporting Barack Obama, let people know why we’re going to win this Tuesday, and let people know that change is in the air.

Voters struggle to decide

Terry Caney
Voter
I don't see them being that far apart on a lot of the key issues that I'm interested in. So, for me, it's a matter of who I feel can beat McCain in the general election in November.

GWEN IFILL: This is virtually the only area of the state that polls show remains split between the two Democrats, especially among women.

PAM LOUGHMAN: I am still trying to decide. I'm finding it to be a really hard choice between Obama and Hillary.

GWEN IFILL: Why?

PAM LOUGHMAN: I think they both have something to offer. They both have certain strengths. There are things about each of them that make me hesitate, and yet I came here to the rally today because I wanted to check it out.

GWEN IFILL: Obama supporters Pat and Verner Wilson came out to see their candidate in Wynnewood on Saturday.

VERNER WILSON: I'm a cyclist, and I ride a lot in the counties here, in Montgomery County and Delaware County. And I think people would probably say it's fairly conservative, in terms of the politics. And I was completely blown away by the number of Obama signs that I would see in the yards of folks who are very, very well-off.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: There isn't a problem we face that we cannot solve if we have the right leadership back in the White House, if we have a president...

GWEN IFILL: Terry Caney came out to see Clinton in Radnor.

TERRY CANEY: You know, truthfully, I don't see them being that far apart on a lot of the key issues that I'm interested in. So, for me, it's a matter of who I feel can beat McCain in the general election in November.

Democratic officials reap benefits

Rep. Joe Sestak
D-Pa.
I think you're going to see a shift more towards her, because she's focused, she went door to door in Upper Darby, she was at a firehouse, two of them, in the last couple days, she did a town hall.

GWEN IFILL: The extended presidential contest has yielded extra political benefits for both Sestak and Murphy. A flood of new voters and party-switchers has given Democrats the edge in five of suburban Philadelphia's surrounding counties, including in traditionally Republican areas.

Statewide, 300,000 new Democrats have registered to vote.

I know, when you won, you won by a narrow amount.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY: .6 percent, 1,518 votes of 250,000 cast.

GWEN IFILL: Really? It was that close?

REP. PATRICK MURPHY: It was.

GWEN IFILL: Does this rush of new registrations trickle down for people like you? Does it give you a cushion?

REP. PATRICK MURPHY: I think it helps people. Yes, I think it helps Democrats and helps myself and other candidates. Just like I help the state reps and Governor Rendell helped me when he was on my ticket, Barack Obama will help me in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

GWEN IFILL: Sestak, like Hillary Clinton, downplays the chances for a definitive primary victory.

REP. JOE SESTAK: She's doing well in this district, but I think this weekend you're going to be finding that there's this portion that haven't yet made up their mind.

I think you're going to see a shift more towards her, because she's focused, she went door to door in Upper Darby, she was at a firehouse, two of them, in the last couple days, she did a town hall.

And the reason I say that is Pennsylvania, particularly this district, is about retail politics. We're taken with the TV commercials. They have an impact. But that person that can show people that they understand retail politics, going into the hoagie shops, going to the train station, is the person my constituents respond to. And that's what she's been demonstrating.

VOLUNTEER: Hi, is Mary available? Hi, Mary, this is Holly. I'm calling from Barack Obama's campaign.

GWEN IFILL: Volunteers for both campaigns spent the final weekend working phones and going door-to-door, leaning on undecided voters.

VOLUNTEER: Are you Mrs. Roberts?

VOTER: Yes.

VOLUNTEER: Hi.

VOLUNTEER: We are from D.C., and we're working for Hillary Clinton.

Veterans, Catholics weigh in

Rep. Patrick Murphy
D-Pa.
Barack Obama will win, whether that's a single-digit defeat or whether that's a by-the-skin-of-his-teeth victory. But it certainly is not going to be the 20-point to 30-point win that the Clinton machine was calling for just a few months ago.

GWEN IFILL: The outcome could hinge on two key groups...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: How many veterans do we have here today?

GWEN IFILL: ... veterans and Catholics. Sestak and Murphy happen to be both. Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of troops killed in Iraq, and nearly 30 percent of the state's voters identify themselves as Catholic. Nearly two-thirds of those say they will support Clinton.

At St. Luke the Evangelist, a Catholic parish just outside the city in Glenside, the election is on the minds of many.

So how hard is this?

KATHY NOLEN EDWARDS: I think it's -- for me, it's hard, because I think they're both good. What I want is somebody to win, and that's where I'm concerned of the other problems of our country, the things that polarize us.

GWEN IFILL: Monsignor J. Michael Flood takes pains to keep politics out of the pulpit, but he's keenly aware that it's all around him.

REV. MSGR. J. MICHAEL FLOOD, St. Luke the Evangelist Church: I've noticed every November, whether it's been for local elections or national, they really do get a little bonkers. And, you know, because it's part of being involved in the civic life of the country. And I think they take it very seriously and, you know, rightly so.

GWEN IFILL: He advises his parishioners to pray before they vote.

In the final days, both sides are doing their best to create new definitions of victory.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY: Barack Obama will win, whether that's a single-digit defeat or whether that's a by-the-skin-of-his-teeth victory. But it certainly is not going to be the 20-point to 30-point win that the Clinton machine was calling for just a few months ago and what the polls showed was going to happen.

It is remarkable, absolutely remarkable what has happened in Pennsylvania in the past few weeks. People who I could have swore would support Hillary Clinton are now voting for Barack Obama.

REP. JOE SESTAK: I think she has to do well in Pennsylvania, high single digits. I think she needs to be there. And not just that, win at least four to five of the remaining primaries and have the wind at her back, that she's very close or ahead or tied in the popular vote. She's only a percent point behind.

GWEN IFILL: The margin of victory or defeat may be open to interpretation this Tuesday, but one set of numbers is not open to debate: 7 of the state's 19 congressional districts will produce half of the Keystone State's total haul of convention delegates; six of those are right here in the southeast corner of the state.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I need your help on Tuesday.

Voters focusing on the issues

Judy Woodruff
Senior NewsHour Correspondent
A woman who drove from Baltimore with her 3-month-old baby just to go to the Upper Bucks County headquarters and make phone calls on behalf of the candidate, librarians who decided to take the weekend and spend their time here.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Judy and I have spent a lot of time talking to voters here about the choices they have to make tomorrow. And everywhere we've gone, we've encountered passion and indecision.

Judy, you first.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That's right, Gwen. This weekend, I spent time in both York County and Lancaster County, there in that southwestern swath of the state. We were just talking about York steeped in history. It was where the U.S. capital was moved during the Revolutionary War.

And I found a surprising number of voters -- and I heard some of this in your piece from the Philadelphia suburbs -- who just can't make up their minds. They like Clinton, they like Obama.

But I have to tell you, Gwen, quickly, my favorite story is a gentleman -- I walked up to him just before the Hillary Clinton rally began in York on Saturday afternoon. And he said, "You know, I would like to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I just don't think she can win in November. My wife, on the other hand, is for her all the way."

After the rally, I went right back over to them. His wife told me she wasn't sure. She liked Clinton, but she's not sure what she's going to do on Tuesday. He told me he's now leaning Clinton. So it defies one's imagination.

GWEN IFILL: It's very much the same on this end. You know, one of the things I discovered, a woman walked up to me and said, "You know, I like watching people like you and Judy on the NewsHour because women are in charge." Well, she was a Barack Obama supporter. Go figure.

I encountered voters, a woman who drove from Baltimore with her 3-month-old baby just to go to the Upper Bucks County headquarters and make phone calls on behalf of the candidate, librarians who decided to take the weekend and spend their time here. The passion is overwhelming.

But the dilemma for all the candidates seems to me -- and I'm sure you're finding this, too, Judy -- is that they don't who the passion is going to benefit in the end in an election like this. What are you hearing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what I found was a passion on both sides. I found there were, as you did, there were volunteers who had driven up from Washington, high school sophomores who were out going door-to-door all day long on Saturday in York County for Senator Obama.

But I also talked -- and we went to a diner in Harrisburg on Sunday morning -- there were Republicans there who said they would seriously consider voting for Hillary Clinton in November. Now, they can't vote for her on Tuesday, tomorrow, but they're looking ahead.

That tells me that there is a whole lot more interest in this election. But you're right, Gwen, it's very hard to tell in the last analysis who benefits more from that.

GWEN IFILL: I think, Judy, one of the things I'm picking up, which is also interesting -- you heard it tonight from the Pittsburgh City Council members, you heard it from the folks in central Pennsylvania, is that voters are really making their decisions based on actual issues.

I encountered many voters who were unhappy with what they saw at the presidential debate last week that didn't focus sufficiently on the issues. I also saw the same thing with a lot of voters who said, "We want to talk about the economy."

They want to talk about abortion. At that Catholic Church, there were people who wanted to talk about that.

But people who did not want to talk about flag lapel pins and didn't want to talk about -- which is really interesting, since this last 48 hours has been a welter of negative television advertising from both campaigns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For sure. And just to double up on what you said, several people, a number of people said to us they were sick of the negative back-and-forth. They hope that's coming to an end. And it made me wonder if that's going to suppress voter turnout.

All right, Gwen, that's -- for both of us, I think it's been an enlightening few days. We'll be right back.