Hillary Clinton was the projected winner of the Pennsylvania primary over Barack Obama on Tuesday, after a contentious, costly and weary contest that was poised to shape the remaining contours of the race.
NBC News called the race at 8:50 p.m. EDT, 50 minutes after polls closed. It was still uncertain eaxctly what the gap between the candidates was.
Most polls showed Clinton with an advantage of between five and 10 percentage point, raising expectations that she would score a victory that would keep her in the race or, if she scored a blowout win, would bolster her argument that she is more electable. Moreover, Clinton sought a victory to bolster her fund-raising.
Obama downplayed expectations on the eve of the primary, suggesting that he could narrow the gap enough to surprise observers.
Hollywood’s Democrats were looking to the primary to provide some resolution of a race that started off with a sense of bullish excitement but has devolved into public displays of acrimony. The 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.
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.
It left a gaping news hole, and perhaps too much time on each campaigns’ hands.
If they weren’t battering each other with daily conference calls or attack ads, the Clinton and Obama camps were consumed with the fallout from a teeter totter of controversies, from Obama’s association with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to Clinton’s claims that she was put under sniper fire in a 1996 trip to Bosnia.
Early 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.
The latter perhaps reflected what was a bruising week for the Obama campaign, after 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 seized on the comment, calling it “elitist.” Obama later said that he could have chosen his words better, and polls indicated that his comments didn’t derail his campaign.
But he delivered a lackluster 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.
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 Maria Bello and Hill Harper 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.
Just how much interest there will be in the remaining contests remains to be seen. 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 only helping John McCain.
ABC News exit polls give weight to fears that both candidates are tarnishing their brands. Some two-thirds say that Clinton unfairly attacked Obama, while half said that Obama went too negative on Clinton.
The caustic environment has trickled down to the level of Hollywood donors and supporters. 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. They pointed to a Pelosi comment that superdelegates should vote for whoever has the pledged delegate lead. They also pointed out that they were avid fund-raisers for Democratic congressional candidates — which some took as a threat to withhold their money unless she clarified her comments.