PHILADELPHIA -- "Anybody with gray hair like me remembers 1992," Pennsylvania state Rep. Michael McGeehan hollered to a crowd gathered outside the Mayfair Diner in Northeast Philadelphia, on a cool spring night last Thursday. "We remember the original 'Comeback Kid': Bill Clinton!"
McGeehan, one of several local politicians charged with warming up the audience for the former first lady, recounted when Bill visited the same spot on the night before he was first elected president. "We have a little better weather than we did in 1992, but there's also another 'Comeback Kid' about to come through the doors of that diner, and that 'Comeback Kid' is Senator Hillary Clinton!"
Clinton, taking the stage after introductions by Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, continued on the same theme.
"I want to ask how many of you were here in 1992?" she shouted. "When my husband came here in 1992, he talked about putting people first. And that is what we did."
She took aim at Barack Obama for smearing her favorite decade. "When I hear him criticizing the 1990s, I'm always wondering, which part of it didn't he like -- the peace, or the prosperity?"
She continued, "We've got to recognize, that following George W. Bush, we have to turn us back in the direction of America's destiny." (Only somebody from the family that brought us "The Bridge to the 21st Century" could say something as incomprehensible. Why would we need to go backward to be able to move in a direction that is already predetermined?)
Shifting to another theme, Clinton declared, "It is time to clean house. And one thing women know how to do, we know how to clean house."
SHE MAY BE DOING shots of whiskey these days and presenting herself as a defender of the Second Amendment. John Mellencamp's populist anthem "Our Country" may have replaced KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" as the song most likely to be played campaign rallies.
But with her back against the wall and desperate for a substantial victory in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton has been leaning on the same two crutches that have sustained her throughout her campaign -- the fond memories that many Democrats still have for her husband's presidency, and the fact that she is a woman.
John Comitale, a retired firefighter who attended the block party for Clinton in the working-class neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, didn't hesitate when asked why he was leaning toward Clinton over Obama.
"She's got her husband, she's been with her husband as president for eight years," Comitale said. "Her husband's experience of being president can only help her, and I don't think Obama has that backing."
Meanwhile, the final SurveyUSA poll showed Clinton clinging to a 6-point lead in the state, primarily because of the 60 percent to 37 percent edge she enjoys among female voters, who are expected to make up a majority of the electorate in today's primary.
The Obama campaign does not expect to win Pennsylvania, and if any other indication was needed, he will be spending tonight at a rally Evansville, Indiana (...with John Mellencamp).
The Obama campaign will try to take solace in any loss within single digits, citing Clinton's support from Gov. Ed Rendell, the huge lead Clinton brought to the state, and the series of controversies Obama had to endure over the past six weeks. Anything less than a 20-point blowout will all but mathematically eliminate Clinton from overtaking Obama in the pledged delegate count or popular vote.
But in a conference call with reporters yesterday, Clinton's chief strategist Geoff Garin dismissed such numbers as "ridiculous." The campaign argued that Obama had outspent Clinton substantially in Pennsylvania and thus any victory by Clinton would raise further questions about Obama's ability to win working-class voters in big swing states.
Clinton, it's pretty clear, will use any angle to justify continuing her candidacy. The trouble is, financial reports released over the weekend showed Clinton heavily in debt, and Obama with a five-to-one cash advantage. And that was at the beginning of the month, before all of the spending in Pennsylvania.
Unless she and Bill are willing to kick in more of their sizable fortune on a nearly lost cause, this Clinton nostalgia tour may soon be performing its final engagement.
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