Hillary Rodham Clinton staved off elimination in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, defeating Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary and reviving her hopes of becoming the United States’ first female president.
The former first lady was winning 54 per cent of the vote Tuesday to 46 per cent for her rival with 75 per cent of the vote counted. She hoped for significant inroads into Obama’s overall lead in the competition for delegates who will choose the party’s nominee at the Democratic National Convention in August.
Her victory, while comfortable, set up another critical test in two weeks in Indiana. North Carolina votes the same night, with Obama already the clear favourite in a state with a large black population.
Clinton said ‘the tide is turning’.
“Some counted me out and said to drop out,” Clinton told supporters cheering her triumph in a state where she was outspent by more than two-to-one. “But the American people don’t quit. And they deserve a president who doesn’t quit either.”
Clinton scored her victory by winning the support of working-class voters, women and whites in an election where the economy was the dominant concern. More than 80 per cent of voters surveyed as they left their polling places said the United States was already in a recession.
She won despite being outspent heavily by her rival in a six-week campaign that allowed time for intense courtship of the voters - particularly working-class Democrats.
The win gave Clinton a strong record in the big states as she attempts to persuade convention superdelegates to look past Obama’s overall delegate advantage and his lead in the popular vote and states won in picking a nominee. She had previously won primaries in Texas, California, Ohio and her home state of New York, while Obama won his home state of Illinois.
Clinton had been heavily favoured to win in Pennsylvania, the largest prize remaining in the primary season and a state dominated by the types of voters who have flocked to her in the past.
Clinton needed a convincing victory to ease pressure for her to end her campaign, allow her to raise more money, and press her argument that she - not a first-term senator like Obama - is the Democrats’ best bet to defeat Republican John McCain in the November presidential election.
In conceding defeat to Clinton, Obama criticised McCain as offering more of the same policies advocated by President George W. Bush. And he took aim at Clinton without mentioning her by name. “We can calculate and poll-test our positions and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear,” he said. “Or we can be the party that doesn’t just focus on how to win, but why we should.”
Obama remains the race’s clear front-runner. The Illinois senator has raised much more money than Clinton, who has been struggling financially. More important, he began the night with a substantial lead in delegates.
Clinton won at least 52 delegates to the party’s national convention, with 60 still to be awarded. Obama won at least 46, according to an analysis of election returns by The Associated Press.
That left Obama with an overall lead of 1,694.5 delegates to Clinton’s 1,561.5, with 2,025 needed to win the nomination. The totals include so-called superdelegates - party officials and superdelegates who are not picked in primaries and caucuses.
With only nine contests remaining through June 3, Clinton has almost no chance of finishing the race with more elected delegates than Obama. Her main hope is keeping the race close and seeking the support of the superdelegates, who can vote for either candidate regardless of state results.
Barring Clinton landslides in the remaining contests or a huge misstep by Obama, however, superdelegates would be reluctant to overturn the verdict of the millions of Americans who voted in record numbers in the most compelling party race in memory: Obama, trying to become the first black US president, versus Clinton, seeking to become the first female US president.
Clinton was once seen as the inevitable Democratic nominee, campaigning on her experience as a first lady and two-term senator from New York. But Obama burst into the lead with a message of hope and change directed at Americans opposed to the Iraq war, worried about the weak economy and dissatisfied with Bush’s presidency.
Given Bush’s low approval ratings, a Democratic victory was once considered all but assured. But recent opinion polls show McCain running about even with either Obama or Clinton. Some Democrats worry the increasingly hostile tone of the campaign, with its focus on gaffes by the candidates and their surrogates, could cost them the White House.
Both rivals sought to shape expectations ahead of the Pennsylvania vote. Obama said he expected to lose, but narrowly, and worked to limit any gains Clinton might make in the delegate chase.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Obama said, campaigning at a Pittsburgh restaurant.
Clinton said on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA that Obama had outspent her in Pennsylvania “three, maybe four to one” and was trying to undercut her possible victory by claiming she should have done even better.
Obama reported spending $11.2 million on television in the state, compared with $4.8 million for Clinton.
To the delight of Republicans, the six-week layoff between primaries produced a string of troubles for the Democrats.
Obama was forced onto the defensive by incendiary comments by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then triggered controversy on his own by saying small-town Americans cling to guns and religion because they are bitter about their economic hardships.
Clinton conceded that she had not landed under sniper fire in Bosnia while first lady, even though she said several times that she had. And she replaced her chief strategist, Mark Penn, after he met with officials of the Colombian government who were seeking passage of a free-trade agreement that she opposes. (AP)
Clinton scores vital win in Pennsylvania primary