The State Of The Race

The data from last night suggests that voters believe that Hillary Clinton's argument about Barack Obama's general election viability will remain valid until Obama renders it invalid. He did poor relative to Clinton among most discernible swing groups despite a massive, $12 million, six-week investment. The argument, incidentally, isn't that because Obama didn't win Pennsylvania in the primary, he can't win it in the general. It's that the coalition Obama is building in these states cannot, without a significant modification, give him victory in the fall. The corresponding argument is that it will be easier for Clinton to expand her coalition.

For their loss, the Obama campaign points to the deep structure of the state and then to Clinton campaign's negative attacks. But in the final days of the campaign, Obama mounted a counter-barrage that was just as harsh. There's no conclusive evidence that the Osama Bin Laden image in her final advertisement helped Clinton, but I suspect that you'll see the ad replicated in some form or fashion in North Carolina.

One theory of the case holds that, after Pennsylvania, a lot happened but only a little has changed. Barack Obama is still in the catbird's seat for the nomination, although Clinton earned herself two more weeks to make the case that she ought to be heard -- or, two more weeks to damage Obama's candidacy, depending on your point of view. Obama hasn't sealed the deal; a plurality of the superdelegates remain undecided. There's no way Clinton can make up the pledged delegate difference. Obama has a lot of money; Clinton has very little. The demographic stasis of the Democratic primary hasn't been altered. Obama still is less attractive to older voters, less affluent voters, less educated voters -- the Democratic white working class. (Remember: PA was a closed primary.) Obama had six weeks and an unlimited pool of money and a media that was on side, and he still did not win. Obama still has the burden of explaining why he cannot beat Clinton in one of these states. (One potential answer is that the general election will allow Obama to make a contrast with McCain that he can't make with Clinton.)

Clinton has the burden of explaining why a potentially quixotic quest is worth the damage that might be accruing to the Democratic Party. Two weeks from tonight, the overall delegate number will probably not have changed much, and Obama, if he wins Indiana and North Carolina, will have made up the net popular vote gain that Clinton takes away from tonight. Obama will focus heavily on John McCain over the next two weeks; Clinton will do largely what she's been doing.

On demographics: the electorate was considerably more upscale than in Ohio -- 46% had college degrees, versus 38% in Ohio. The percentage of voters earning more than $100,000 in Pennsylvania was 25% versus 19% in Ohio. Ostensibly, a more affluent electorate favors Obama. It's unclear at this point whether the preferences of these groups have really changed, or if the candidates improved or changed their share of those groups. Over Ohio, it's safe to say that Obama did improve his share of the black vote, and seems to have done better among white men and did better -- significantly better -- among older voters. Clinton did better that she usually does among Catholics and among college graduates. As NBC's Chuck Todd notes, the big surprise of the night was the degree to which Clinton held her own in the Philly suburbs.

Looking forward:

1. Clinton will have enough money to make the race competitive in Indiana. She will be competitive with him in terms of endorsements, and she has, in Sen. Evan Bayh, a high-profile surrogates. Still, Obama hasn't lost a state that borders Illinois.

2. Obama the fighter. He will throw back against Clinton. '

3. Will John Edwards endorse? Elizabeth Edwards? (More likely the latter?)

4. Will Clinton pick up any superdelegate endorsements between now and then?

5. Will we know what the DNC recommends vis-a-vis the Ausman challenges for Florida?

6. Will the Obama campaign agree to another debate?

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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