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Why Clinton needs to win big in Pennsylvania

Her viability is at risk if she doesn't, analysts say.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 22, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton

charles dharapak/ap

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UPPER ST. CLAIR, PA.

Once again, it's do-or- die time for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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The New York senator, trailing her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, by most measures, has to win the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday – and she has to win convincingly in order to narrow the deficit and appear competitive in the remaining handful of contests, analysts say.

The latest major polls show her winning the Keystone State by an average of five points. That would not be enough to make substantial headway in either her convention delegate count or the popular vote. But Clinton campaign aides have made clear that a win is a win and that they plan to spin even a narrow victory into a major loss for Senator Obama.

"If Obama fails to win Pennsylvania, it will be another sign that he is unable to win in the large states that a candidate for president on the Democratic ticket needs to win," Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters in a conference call last week.

If Clinton wins Pennsylvania by 10 points or more, that would give Obama a jolt – but she would still face a steep climb in the remaining contests to capture the nomination. Her only hope is to get close in either the delegate count or the popular vote and then persuade enough of the superdelegates – the party officials and leaders who are free to back whomever they want – that she would be the stronger nominee against Republican Sen. John McCain in November.

Obama leads in the Associated Press's overall delegate count 1,647 to 1,508, including the latest superdelegate to declare for Obama, Enid Goubeaux, a Democratic National Committee member from Ohio. A candidate needs 2,025 delegates to clinch the nomination. Obama leads in the popular vote by more than 700,000 votes.

Forecasting the Pennsylvania Democratic vote – the largest state left in primary season – isn't easy. In some ways, Pennsylvania is like Ohio, with its large working-class population, lots of older voters, and big Roman Catholic population. Those demographics tilt toward Clinton. Since she won Ohio by 10 points, some analysts say that's her benchmark for Pennsylvania.

Independent pollster John Zogby sees the numbers breaking for Clinton in the final days. In his Sunday survey, the undecideds dropped from 8 percent to 5 percent, and most went for Clinton.

But, he and others warn, Pennsylvania is also different from Ohio. Job growth in Pennsylvania, 3 percent since 2003, far outpaces Ohio's 0.5 percent. Pittsburgh, the old steel city, has reinvented itself into a high-tech mecca.

Still, it's not hard to find older, working-class Pennsylvanians who feel left behind, and they are Clinton's base. The latest Franklin and Marshall College poll shows Clinton with a 20-point lead (53 percent to 33 percent) in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh.

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