Hillary Clinton cast her victory over Barack Obama in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary as a turning point in the race for the Democratic nomination.
But at least for the immediate future, her 10-point margin of victory is not expected to dramatically change the contours of a prolonged and acrimonious race, one that has split Hollywood’s Democrats virtually right down the middle.
Clinton seized on the opportunity to use her victory to boost her fund-raising and to bolster her argument to superdelegates that she is more electable.
“Today, here in Pennsylvania, you made your voices heard, and because of you, the tide is turning,” Clinton said to supporters gathered at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Philadelphia.
While it is almost mathematically impossible for her to overcome Obama in pledged delegates, Clinton is counting on her ability to win swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, with their heavy populations of working class voters, as a convincing argument to superdelegates that she is better equipped to defeat John McCain in November.
“We were up against a forminable opponent who outspent us three to one,” she noted. “He broke every spending record in this state trying to knock us out of this race. Well, the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas tonight.”
Her campaign facing significant debts, she also made an appeal to supporters to go to her Website to donate, saying, “Tonight, more than ever I need your help to continue this journey.”
John Emerson, the chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center and a top fund-raiser for Clinton, said that she “exceeded expectations.”
“The big issue for her is she needs financial support,” he said. “My guess is you will see a real surge.”
Much of it will have to come from online fund-raising, as many donors in industries like entertainment are tapped out.
Moreover, the entertainment community is split, almost ridiculously so, between Obama and Clinton supporters, with only $300 separating the two candidates in campaign funds raised from the entertainment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Each candidate has raised about $3 million from the industry.
Many Obama supporters had looked to a single-digit loss or even a surprise victory as close enough to bring resolution to the race.
“CSI New York” star Hill Harper, who campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania and other states, said that Obama had been able to pare down a huge Clinton lead from early March, when polls showed she was in the neighborhood of 20 points ahead.
“If we look at the big picture as to what this primary represents, even if the margin in eight to 10 points, the Obama campaign has proven that wherever he is, he closes the gap,” Harper said.
Exit polls showed Obama commanded huge numbers of young and first-time voters, as well as African Americans. Clinton with wide leads among women voters, whites and late deciders. In Pennsylvania and other swing states, Obama has had trouble “closing the deal,” with late surges in the polls offset by undecided voters breaking Clinton’s way.
Harper said the latter results on the impact of some of the Clinton campaign’s negative ads. In one, meant to show Clinton’s readiness to lead, featured a fleeting image of Osama bin Laden.
“At the end of the day, that drives down the popularity of the candidates who use them, but they do work,” Harper said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t use them.”
Obama engaged in some attacks on Clinton as well, but he made some missteps that put the campaign on the defensive many times over the past two weeks. The Huffington Post published an account of a comment he made at a San Francisco fund-raiser where he suggested that some who live small towns are “bitter” over the state of the economy, and in turn “cling” to such things as guns or religion. Clinton called the comment “elitist.” Obama later said that he could have chosen his words better, and polls indicated that his comments didn’t derail his campaign.
He also delivered a less-than-stallar performance in an ABC News debate with Clinton on Wednesday, although the forum drew harsh criticism because of its emphasis on so-called “gotcha” questions, like why Obama didn’t wear a flag pin.
The Pennsylvania vote was the first contest since the Mississippi primary on March 11 — what seemed like an eternity for those in the media, the donor community and anyone else following the race closely.
Absent any votes, each campaign sought an advantage.
As in other past contests, both campaigns made judicious use of celebrity surrogates. Sean Astin, Rob Reiner, America Ferrera, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen campaigned for Clinton, as they have elsewhere, while Harper and Maria Bello stumped for Obama, and Alfre Woodard and Kate Walsh worked the phone banks. Edward Norton trailed Obama as part of his documentary on the candidate.
Yet even as campaigns continue to draw star names to the trail, the excitement that greeted the start of the nomination battle in January has given way to a certain weariness among supporters on both sides, and worry that the protracted fight is polarizing donors and fund-raisers.
Caustic comments have spilled out on both sides.
Larry David and Ari Emanuel, both Obama supporters, have each written Huffington Post editorial highly critical of Clinton’s campaign tactics. Tim Robbins said on a radio show Tuesday, “I can’t sanction another Clinton in the White House.”
Meanwhile, some of Clinton’s supporters, including Haim Saban, Sim Farar and Clarence Avant, last month sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting comments she made about the role of superdelegates that they see as favoring Obama. The Clinton donors also pointed out that they were avid fund-raisers for Democratic congressional candidates –a comment that some took as a threat to withhold their money unless she clarified her comments.
In the end — and who knows when it will end — the provocative comments could be merely rhetoric that gives way to unity against John McCain. Noting the number of new voters who have been registered as campaigns move through the states, Emerson said that the tight race was “very positive for the Democrats.”
He added, “I happen to believe that a good, healthy fight is going to strengthen the party.”