HARRISBURG, Pa. — Like a pre-game pep rally, Hillary Clinton’s Election Eve event in Pennsylvania’s capital city featured cheers and chants and predictions of victory.
The former first lady was late arriving yesterday afternoon after beginning the day with a morning event in Scranton, but a young Clinton aide warmed up the waiting audience, leading an exuberant chant in which she hollered, “Madame!” and the crowd yelled back, “President!”
Exclamation points continued to proliferate after Hillary showed up to deliver a 30-minute speech full of promises and applause lines that ended with the candidate shouting, “Now, let’s go out and win an election!”
Indeed, the New York senator is expected to score a solid win in today’s primary — an internal poll of likely Democratic voters leaked by Clinton aides to the Drudge Report yesterday showed her with an 11-point edge over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Still, it remains a question mark whether even a double-digit victory can rescue a cash-strapped candidate who will continue to trail Obama in the all-important delegate count no matter the outcome in Pennsylvania.
NONE OF HER difficulties appeared to trouble Hillary yesterday when she took the stage at the Zembo Masonic Temple here, wearing a red jacket and sounding slightly hoarse as she neared the end of the grueling six-week Pennsylvania campaign.
“I know that I’m running for the toughest job in the world,” she told the crowd, making the case that she’s ready for the task, and insinuating that Obama is not quite up to the challenge. “We need to think carefully about this decision….Who do we want to be there on Day One?”
To this, the crowd responded with chants of “Hillary! Hillary!” but not everyone at the rally was a true-blue Clintonite. Sixteen years of national media exposure lend Hillary a celebrity aura. Her fame may not be enough to win her the Democratic nomination, but it attracts many people who mainly seem eager to see the famous lady in person.
Among those was 21-year-old Laura Antonuk, who accompanied her mother to the Harrisburg rally because “she was very excited about it and I thought I’d come along.”
Her mother, Ginger Lowe, is enthusiastically pro-Clinton. “As a woman who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, to me it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to vote for a woman for president,” Lowe said while awaiting Hillary’s arrival.
Her daughter, however, was uncommitted. “I haven’t really decided who I’m going to vote for yet, so it’s good to see her speak and hear her views,” Antonuk said. “We’ll see.”
Clinton directly addressed the undecided Democrats in the audience yesterday. “Some people are still probably trying to decide….There are still some of you here who are still shopping, and you know, you can shop all the way until the polls close tomorrow.”
It may seem strange that Pennsylvania voters would still be undecided after such an extended campaign here. However, the Clinton camp suggests that last week’s debate — in which ABC News moderators George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson hammered Obama with tough questions — sowed doubts about Obama’s electability and gave Hillary a chance to change the minds of Democrats who had previously been leaning the other way.
“I think what we saw at the debate…was that people have a lot of questions about Senator Obama, questions that he has failed to answer leading up to that debate or even since that debate,” Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee said in a brief interview after yesterday’s rally. “And I think you’re seeing that in the way that people are reacting and responding to him since.”
The obvious strategy for Team Clinton is to continue stressing Hillary’s White House experience — a theme she emphasizes in every speech — while raising more questions about Obama.
A BIG WIN in Pennsylvania is essential to that strategy. Almost all observers expect Hillary to win today’s primary in a state where every credible poll has shown her leading since last year. But if she can win by the double-digit margin suggested by the internal poll the Clinton campaign leaked to Drudge yesterday, Hillary’s people are ready to declare a momentum shift based on Obama’s apparent inability to win in states that will be major battlegrounds in November.
“Senator Obama has been outspending us three-to-one here in Pennsylvania,” Elleithee said. “I think a lot of people are going to have to ask the question, if he fails to win here, despite outspending us three-to-one — which would be the same pattern as we saw in Texas and Ohio — he’s going to have to start answering a lot of questions as to why.
“Why can’t he close the sale? Why can’t he win in these big states, and these swing states in the general election?”
The Clinton spokesman’s mention of Obama’s spending points to a key problem facing Hillary. While the latest reports from the Federal Election Commission showed Obama came into April with more than $40 million campaign cash on hand, the Clinton campaign had only $9 million cash on hand, and more than $10 million in debts.
Hillary has apparently been able to withstand a non-stop barrage of Obama ads in Pennsylvania, but without a major influx of cash soon, her campaign’s financial disadvantage could become fatal.
A big win in Pennsylvania may breathe new life into Clinton’s campaign and bring more contributions into her coffers, but she will still lag behind Obama in the delegate count.
Obama’s advantage in convention delegates — recently calculated by Bloomberg News at 1,645 to Clinton’s 1,504 — is Exhibit A in the case presented by Democrats who say Hillary should quit the race because she can’t possibly win the nomination.
YET HILLARY OBSTINATELY refuses to quit, and her spokesman says there is no reason for her to bow out. He points out that when the primary season ends, neither Democrat will have secured the 2,025 delegates needed to lock up the nomination in Denver.
“Neither candidate will have won the nomination after the primaries are over…so there are other factors that are going to have to weigh in, including super-delegates, including however Florida and Michigan are finally resolved,” Elleithee said. “So there’s still a lot of game left to be played.”
Clinton clearly plans to keep playing the game, as she stressed her readiness for the presidency to the Harrisburg crowd.
“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” she said, warming up to a theme that she wrapped up in a peroration asking Pennsylvanians to consider their primary vote a “hiring decision” with two final applicants up for the job.
“Ask yourself, who’s ready to turn the economy around?…Who’s ready to deliver universal health care for every single American?…Who’s ready to take care of our veterans and end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan?”
She heard the answer she wanted from the roar of the Pennsylvanians whose voices nearly drowned out her final words, commanding them to go forth to victory.