Clinton Wins Big in Pennsylvania, Fights On

Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary by ten points [actually, 8.6* or whatever**], continuing her string of large state victories and thereby keeping her dim hopes for the presidency alive.

Unfortunately for Clinton, the press is treating this is a foregone conclusion, despite inconsistent polls and a hard fought six week battle. ABC’s Jennifer Parker:

Clinton Wins Pennsylvania Photo Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) addresses supporters at her Pennsylvania primary election night rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 22, 2008. (Jim Young/Reuters) Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has won the Pennsylvania primary vote as expected, claiming victory in a Philadelphia speech.

“Some people counted me out and said to drop out but the American people don’t quit, and they deserve a president who doesn’t quit, either,” Clinton told supporters at a victory rally after walking out to Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down.”

“We were up against a formidable opponent who outspent us 3-1… trying to knock us out of the race,” Clinton said of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., “Well the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas today.”

Apropos of nothing, really, but the choice of songs is amusing for reasons other than her having started the race with every conceivable advantage.

George W. Bush used [it] in his 2000 Presidential campaign. When Petty found out, he threatened to sue, as he did not support Bush. Bush stopped using the song but won the election anyway. Petty’s home state of Florida decided the election when Bush won the state by a very slim margin.

Petty performed this for Al Gore at his house an hour after he conceded the election (the second time) to George W. Bush.

But I digress.

Most of the postmortem has focused on two issues: demographics and the impact of the negativity of the primary campaign on the eventual general election race with John McCain. David Paul Kuhn for The Politico:

For all the campaigning and money spent, Hillary Rodham Clinton won Pennsylvania with the same base of white women, working-class voters and white men that revived her candidacy in Ohio last month. The demography that has defined the Democratic race went largely unchanged, according to exit polls.

To Clinton’s relief, Pennsylvania proved more of a repeat of her win in Ohio rather than an echo of Wisconsin, where Obama won with the support of white men and blue-collar Democrats while neutralizing Clinton’s base of white female support.

There were few surprises in Pennsylvania, according to the exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for television networks and The Associated Press. Clinton held about 65 percent of white women and about 55 percent of the key swing bloc of white men, a strong showing though slightly weaker than her Ohio showing.

Clinton has now won white men in 12 states and Obama has done the same in 10 states. Obama did win more than nine in 10 black voters, continuing his unbroken support of African-Americans. And Clinton continued her trend of winning white women in all but a couple of contests. But other trends may prove disconcerting for Obama.

Obama won six in 10 voters age 29 and under. But Clinton split young white voters, as she did in Ohio. In early February, Obama heavily lost whites in Missouri but narrowly won the state with the help of 57 percent of the white youth vote. Young Democrats made up only 12 percent of voters, however. In comparison, fully 22 percent were age 65 and older. Clinton won more than six in 10 senior voters while winning a majority of all voters 40 and older.

Also similar to Ohio, Clinton won nearly six in 10 of those voters without college degrees, a strong indicator of working class status. Obama’s bus tour and advertising blitz targeting working-class voters appears to have had little effect. The same can be said for the row over Obama’s remarks about “bitter” Midwestern small town voters, though that too was expected, as polling indicated that it was mostly non-Democrats who were offended. Obama won only a slight majority of voters with college degrees, again largely reflecting the Ohio results. That is a disconcerting result for Obama, as the Illinois senator needed to dominate voters with higher levels of education to overcome Clinton’s advantage in the state. It has been Obama’s base of blacks and highly educated whites that has formed the bedrock of his victories throughout the primary race.

Clinton won about six in 10 of those who had decided in either the past three days or the past week whom they were going to support, again mimicking Ohio. One in four Pennsylvania Democrats decided their vote in the past week. Six in 10 voters said they chose their candidate more than a month ago, a higher proportion than usual and one more indication that many Pennsylvanian Democrats had their vote resolved early on in the race.

As has been the case throughout the Democratic primary, the economy was the most important issue to voters. Of the more than half of voters who said the economy mattered most, Clinton won a clear majority. About one in four voters said the war in Iraq mattered most to them, and Obama won a clear majority of them. Only 14 percent of voters said health care mattered most, and Clinton won a majority of their support.


Clinton won six in 10 Democrats who had a gun in the home and nearly six in 10 weekly churchgoers. Half of Democratic voters lived in the suburbs and a quarter in small cities or rural areas. Clinton won a strong majority of both groups, while Obama won a strong majority of those voters in cities with populations over 50,000.

On the surface, this is very bad news, indeed, for Obama. He’s comparatively weak with the very groups he’ll most need in November. Then again, he’s currently running against another left-of-center Democrat. That won’t we the case in the Fall. For all of the trepidation movement Conservatives feel about McCain, he’s well to the right of both Clinton and Obama on the issues that matter to independents.

Of more concern, though, is the sense that the bitterness of the campaign will tarnish the winner. ABC’s Gary Langer:

The tough tone of the Pennsylvania Democratic campaign tarnished both candidates — more so Hillary Clinton, with 68 percent of voters saying she attacked Barack Obama unfairly. Yet it appears to have worked: Late deciders favored Clinton by a wide margin, boosting her to an essential victory in the state.


While two-thirds of voters said Clinton attacked Obama unfairly, 50 percent also said Obama unfairly attacked Clinton. Both numbers were higher than in previous primaries overall — by 16 points for Clinton and 12 for Obama — reflecting the negative tone of the campaign’s closing days.

However, voters who said Obama attacked unfairly were more apt to punish him for it: Clinton won those voters by 67-33 percent; of those who said Clinton attacked unfairly, Obama won by a narrower 55-45 percent.

The NYT editorial board, apparently, was among the “unfair” crowd. They weigh in this morning with a scathing piece entitled, “The Low Road to Victory.”

The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

If nothing else, self interest should push her in that direction. Mrs. Clinton did not get the big win in Pennsylvania that she needed to challenge the calculus of the Democratic race. It is true that Senator Barack Obama outspent her 2-to-1. But Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should mainly blame themselves, because, as the political operatives say, they went heavily negative and ended up squandering a good part of what was once a 20-point lead.

Nonsense. There’s obviously no way to know how the race would have gone had she refrained from going negative. But her 20-point advantage was a function of having been a household name since 1992. Obama was going to close the gap. Indeed, I would not have been shocked had I woken up this morning to find that he’d won a narrow victory.

Further, as Langer points out,

For many voters, moreover, it didn’t matter; more than usual decided early. Sixty-one percent said they picked their candidate more than a month ago, compared with 45 percent in previous primaries this year. Yet as noted, those who did decide late went for Clinton, reversing Obama’s edge among those who decided in the previous week to a month.

This is where Clinton deserves, but likely will not get, a lot of credit. Both candidates had six weeks to make their case in Pennsylvania and essentially unlimited money with which to do it. She won and won handily.

But, again, demographics was destiny to a large extent. Langer, again:

Among white voters who said the race of the candidates was important in their vote — albeit a small group, 13 percent of all voters — just 54 percent said they’d support Obama vs. McCain.Of the rest, 27 percent said they’d back McCain, and 16 percent said they wouldn’t vote. Whites who discounted race as an issue were 18 points more apt to favor Obama against the Republican.

This, as Dave Schuler recently noted, could well be decisive in close contests in the Fall.

UPDATE: I was swamped at the office for a couple of days, so missed out on the Pennsylvania Primary Predictions. My colleagues predicted a very narrow Clinton victory; I thought she’d win by maybe 7 or 8 points but, as noted earlier, wouldn’t have been shocked had she lost. Jim Henley and yetanotherjohn both got it right, saying Clinton would win by “10 or more” percentage points.

*UPDATE: Taegan Goddard points out that, “Though most articles this morning say Sen. Hillary Clinton beat Sen. Barack Obama last night in Pennsylvania by 10 points, the official tally actually shows her margin at 8.6%.”

UPDATE: In light of the second update, it occurs to me that the first update now needs updating: Alex Knapp’s 7-9 points was actually closer.

UPDATE:**The number keeps sliding incrementally, since they’re technically still counting. From my understanding, however, neither Al Gore nor Ron Paul can win. With 99.44% of the votes tallied, it’s 54.6% to 45.4%.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary by ten points, continuing her string of large state victories and thereby keeping her dim hopes for the presidency alive.

    Clinton didn’t win by 10 points–her margin of victory was 9.38%

    The media generally rounded up her figure of 54.69% to 55 and rounded down Hussein’s 45.31% to 45%. If you compute the difference first–then round (which is more accurate), the difference is 9.38%.

    “Single Digit” Hillary’s win was closer to 9 points than 10.

  2. mike says:

    Great, a few more months of having to listen/see her on tv.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Great, Hillary may or may not have a chance against McCain. Obama has none. With Ayers and his wife being present at the beginning of Obamas political career, as well as his association with Rev. Wright, support of the church he supports and their philosophy of black liberation, the 527’s will make mincemeat of this neophyte.

  4. Beldar says:

    Hrmpf. I’m advised that my last comment, linking the official results from the PA Dep’t of State and computing the current difference at just under 9.2%, was caught in your spam filter.

  5. Beldar says:

    Sorry, I ought to have said “latest unofficial results,” which is what I said in the spam-filtered comment.