A win can be a win, surely. Yet a win can also be a loss. There will be a "winner" and a "loser" in Pennsylvania's primary on Tuesday -- or maybe two winners and two losers (or even three losers, if you count Bill Clinton).
Here's an easier way: As voters matter again -- this six-week pause in voting (if not spinning) finally comes to an end with Tuesday's primary -- all you need to know about the race you can learn by watching the delegates, in all their various forms.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., may claim to be a hunter -- and she's after an elusive target. Pennsylvania is the biggest prize left on the Democratic calendar: 158 pledged delegates will be allocated in a state with 4.2 million Democrats -- including some 300,000 who have switched party affiliation or registered for the first time.
And another audience is more important: the undecided superdelegates. They'll be watching Tuesday's results on several levels -- for winners and losers (whatever that means), demographic breakdowns that speak to electability (whatever THAT means), and expressions of voter sentiment (politicians generally like keeping their jobs).
"The future of Mrs. Clinton's campaign [is] most likely resting on the outcome," Jeff Zeleny and John M. Broder write in The New York Times.
"Even a wide victory by her would not overcome her deficit in pledged delegates or in the popular vote of states that have held nominating contests, but it would ensure that the race moved on to contests in Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks, on May 6."
Clinton is favored to win her must-win state, but that outcome by itself will be a quick-hit energy boost when what she needs is a healthier long-term campaign lifestyle to overtake the clear frontrunner, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
"The margin in the popular vote ultimately will be secondary to how Pennsylvania affects the battle for pledged delegates," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "Clinton badly needs to make up ground in the delegate fight and, given the way they're distributed, that could be difficult."
Obama comes into the voting with an edge of 145 delegates, per ABC's delegate scorecard, and proportional allocation means that the lead is unlikely to shrink substantially on Tuesday.
And how will voters and delegates view this final flash of the two edges that are Bill Clinton's sword? Asked about his infamous Jesse Jackson comments in South Carolina, the former president tells WHY, "I think that they played the race card on me. And we now know, from memos from the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along."
"I was stating a fact, and it's still a fact," he adds, referring to Obama's support among black voters. (And beware the open mic -- and open-ended questions like this one, Mr. President: As the phone interview ends, Bill Clinton says, "I don't think I should take any sh-t from anybody on that, do you?")
Obama did what he could (and then some) to downplay expectations. Said Obama: "I'm not predicting a win. . . . I'm predicting that it's going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect." Said chief strategist David Axelrod: "I am not standing here telling you we expect to win. . . . I don't think anybody expects us to win."
Obama had gone 10 days without a press conference, and he wasn't about to answer questions over breakfast Monday morning: "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" Obama said, in one of the less-advisable election-eve utterances. (Get the feeling the RNC is ready to let him eat as many "waffles" -- or French toast -- as he wants in the general election?)
Clinton set expectations Tuesday morning on "Good Morning America": "I have to win. I believe that's my task," she told ABC's Chris Cuomo. "I don't see how a Democrat wins the White House without winning Pennsylvania."
Clinton is the prohibitive favorite, despite Obama's lapping of the field in ad spending -- but her problem is that everybody knows this already. Clinton is the victim of the expectations game -- not to mention the fact that she's trailing in the race.
"In what may seem like a paradox, the Clinton victory predicted by nearly all public opinion polls might actually turn out to be a loss if she doesn't win by a significant margin," Peter Wallstein writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"And if Obama keeps the results closer than some surveys suggest, he could be considered victorious -- unless it appears that Clinton's campaign has succeeded in casting doubt on his credentials to be commander in chief or his ability to win support in the fall from white, working-class voters."
"Even if Obama is thumped by 10 to 20 percentage points in Pennsylvania, Clinton would not pick up enough delegates there to cut substantially into Obama's lead," Wallsten adds. "Obama strategists said Monday that they expected to announce a series of additional endorsements by uncommitted superdelegates shortly after Pennsylvania votes. A strong showing by Obama in Pennsylvania would give superdelegates more comfort in coming forward, but a bad loss might send them back to the assessment stage."
Writes Christina Bellantoni, of the Washington Times: "If Mrs. Clinton fails to get the big win, many Democrats believe the superdelegates will surge for Mr. Obama to end the divisive battle and unite to square off with presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain."
Clinton's other nightmare: Pennsylvania could be another Nevada or Texas: "In Democratic strongholds, such as the 1st and 2nd districts, both in Philadelphia, participation rates are high, and those districts allocate seven and nine delegates, respectively," Anne Kornblut and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post. "Obama could win seven of the nine delegate at stake in the 2nd District, and four of seven in the 1st, his campaign estimates."
"Rep. Chaka Fattah, an Obama supporter who represents the 2nd District, predicted in an interview this month that his candidate would win as much as 80 percent of the vote there, an outcome that would yield a 7-2 delegate split for his candidate," James O'Toole writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"Under that scenario, that one district would make up for the one-delegate advantages Mrs. Clinton might reasonably expect in five five-delegate districts scattered through the parts of the state where she is seen as stronger."
That's why a win isn't necessarily a "win." It's not a fair fight -- but neither is the race at this moment an even match between candidates who have equal claim on the nomination.
"The Clinton-Obama primary, which begins the final phase of the prolonged nomination fight, will be judged not just on the basis of who wins but also by how much," Larry Eichel writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"An Obama victory by any margin in Pennsylvania would be a devastating, perhaps fatal, blow to Clinton's prospects," Eichel writes.
"And a narrow Obama loss would do little to change the overall dynamic of the race, although the Clinton camp would try to make as much of the result as possible. On the other hand, a substantial Clinton victory would prolong the nomination process through the next set of primaries, in Indiana and North Carolina next up on May 6, and perhaps beyond."
"Not only must she score an expected win, she must beat Barack Obama by a large enough margin to convince party leaders that she would be the stronger nominee in the fall," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. "Unless Clinton can win convincingly enough to sow doubts about Obama in the minds of the superdelegates, her chances of becoming the Democratic nominee are slim at best."
As for what that margin has to be, the remarkable stability in the polls sets the expectations.
Obama has tried (and failed) to close Clinton out before -- but never has his bar been this low. "Senator Obama has another opportunity tomorrow in Pennsylvania -- and this time he doesn't even have to win," Real Clear Politics' John McIntyre writes.
"If he simply outperforms the latest RealClearPolitics Average which has him trailing by 5.9%, that will be enough to calm nervous superdelegates while all but eliminating any hope Senator Clinton has of claiming a popular vote victory."
"Where the race could get very interesting is if Clinton is able to beat Obama by double-digits," McIntyre continues.
Polls opened at 7 am ET and close at 8 pm ET statewide. It may not be smooth: "With record numbers of new registrants, voter groups and election officials warn of the potential for record numbers of problems at the polls today," Anthony R. Wood and Vernon Clark write in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Despite Obama's efforts to downplay expectations, his campaign has outspent Clinton 3-1 in the Keystone State, and his harsh tone in the closing days suggests a quest for what he was unable to do in New Hampshire or Super Tuesday: close out Sen. Clinton.
He told ABC News' Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" that his attacks on Clinton are necessary. "You've always got to measure if somebody throws an elbow at you, and after three or four times of gettin' elbows in the ribs, you know, at what point do you sort of say, 'OK, you know, we've gotta put a stop to that'?" Obama said.
The spin is the spin, but the numbers are also the numbers -- and Obama will be the frontrunner when they day ends almost no matter what.
And yet -- Clinton may have at least more run in her. Politico's Ben Smith: "If past primaries offer any prediction, a Clinton win will offer her new momentum, money and hope -- for a few days. . . . The Clinton campaign's goal Wednesday, if she wins, will be to argue that Pennsylvania is different. Clinton bases her arguments against Obama on the premise that he's a weak general election candidate whose flaws, finally revealed, will cut the legs out from his campaign."
Slate's John Dickerson sees the Clinton campaign trying to build on a victory that hasn't even come yet: "With a win in Pennsylvania likely, Clinton aides are preparing to frame the victory as a ratification of her 'Who do you think has what it takes?' message (whether voters actually saw the last ad or not)," he writes.
"Now, they're likely to add that Obama's rough patch in the last week of the Pennsylvania campaign means the crisis-testing scenario is not so hypothetical: Pennsylvania voters saw how Obama reacted to his poor debate performance and the pressure of the campaign, and they determined that he couldn't take the heat."
Camp Clinton wants a win to be a win -- period, the end. Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said he rejects "the notion that we need to achieve a certain standard of victory other than victory" -- and a 3-1 Obama spending edge helps make his case, per The Hill's Sam Youngman.
(If it was a "senior campaign source" who leaked an apparent 11-point internal polling advantage to the Drudge Report -- a quickly denied report -- that individual either should not or will not continue to enjoy that title.)
Yet Clinton did what she could to raise the stakes coming into the voting. A quick flash of Osama bin Laden in her closing ad takes care of that, with the ominous tag line: "Who do you think has what it takes?"
"The Obama retort -- without mentioning Mrs. Clinton's name -- brought another of his frequent reminders that, in 2002, she had voted to authorize the war in Iraq," per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Says the narrator: "Who made the right judgment about opposing the war and had the courage and character to speak honestly about it? And who in times of challenge will unite us -- not use fear and calculation to divide us?"
ABC Polling Director Gary Langer, on what to watch for in Pennsylvania: "It's hard see a single factor more compelling than socioeconomic status, particularly as defined by education. It's split the Democratic electorate nearly all year, and as with her past victories, it's what Hillary Clinton will be counting on tomorrow."
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib: "Four groups of voters — working-class males, young people, rural and small-town Americans and Hispanics — stand out as the key pieces of that puzzle. All four groups are in flux, and they will provide the leading indicators of where the race is heading."
More Clinton tough talk: Asked by ABC's Chris Cuomo what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, Clinton was unequivocal. "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
Looking beyond Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana both vote two weeks from Tuesday -- with the Hoosier State looming as the next big battleground.
"Clinton to concede the race if she can't win [in Indiana]," Mary Jacoby, Amy Chozick, and Nick Timiraos write in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. Obama has been running ads in both states for a month, while the Clinton campaign put up its first ads in the states two weeks ago."
This is where Obama's cash edge starts to matter: "Clinton entered April with about $9.3 million in cash on hand, but she also carried about $10.3 million in debt. In contrast, Obama had $42.5 million available to spend at the start of April and reported $663,000 in unpaid bills," Matthew Mosk reports in The Washington Post.
Now title-less Mark Penn is now owed $4.6 million alone. That's another reason a big Pennsylvania win is critical: "[Finance co-chairman Hassan] Nemazee said a victory in Pennsylvania would generate an influx of online donations, and that fundraising from major donors continues to exceed expectations," Mosk writes.
"It's Barack vs. Ba-roke," reads the lede by the New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff.
And Clinton can't count on any more debates to help her prospects in the states to come. Obama gets a reprieve (and Katie Couric gets the shaft): The April 27 CBS debate scheduled for Raleigh, N.C., has been canceled by the state party, citing logistical hurdles as well as concerns about party unity. "It's been quite a long campaign season, and from the media reports there were just some questions about whether another debate would help Democrats tell their story, or just be the aftermath of the ABC debate," Kerra Bolton, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Democratic Party, tells ABC.
Pennsylvania is highly unlike to end anything. Newsday's Glenn Thrush: "Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to take her cash-starved campaign far beyond Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary -- win or lose -- saying she'll fight until voters in Florida and Michigan are seated at the Democratic convention."
The popular vote matters, too -- at least in the long term. Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, to New York magazine's Lloyd Grove: "We expect her to be ahead in the popular vote. The key argument is who is going to be able to stand up to the incoming fire from the Republicans. And it will be withering."
And on the question of electability: "I don't think anybody would argue that he can't win." (Really? Not even to Bill Richardson?)
No wonder Bill Clinton wants some new math: "If we were under the republican system which is more like the electoral college, she would have a 300 delegate lead," the former president said, per ABC's Eloise Harper write. (Actually, the number is 173, but isn't this a little like saying you could have made the majors if curveballs were outlawed?)
But Bloomberg's Lorraine Woellert still sees Bill as a net-plus: "Former President Bill Clinton could well be running against his wife instead of stumping for her. The couple's differences, and his frequent blowups on the campaign trail, though, haven't hurt much with her supporters. As the campaign heads into the Pennsylvania primary today, he still manages to excite voters in rural areas and small towns where she has her best chance for victory over Barack Obama."
The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll cuts both ways: "Barack Obama has widened his lead nationally for the Democratic presidential nomination despite a furor over his comments about small-town Americans," per USA Today's Susan Page. But Clinton's slightly stronger in the hypothetical head-to-heads: It's Clinton 50, McCain 44, and Obama 47, McCain 44.
Regardless of Tuesday's results, the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet sees Obama limping away from Pennsylvania: "After a tough Pennsylvania contest, Obama's brand is bruised. Obama is not as pristine as he once was. He's had to deal with a series of controversies and he's gone negative against Sen. Hillary Clinton -- as she has attacked him," Sweet writes. "In this historic election, Obama's high pedestal was cut down a few feet in Pennsylvania, his hardest fight so far."
The self-styled Rocky Balboas closed with some wrestling, not boxing, with their WWE addresses Monday night.
It was Obama, this time, in the kitchen: "So to the special interests who've been setting the agenda in Washington for too long -– and to all the forces of division and distraction that have stopped us from making progress for the American people -- I've got one question: Do you smell what Barack is cooking?"
And it was Clinton sounding maybe just a little bit tougher: "This election is starting to feel a lot like 'King of the Ring.' The only difference? The last man standing may just be a woman."
Clinton has his primary night celebration in Philadelphia, while Obama makes the Clinton move of skipping ahead to Indiana, with rally in Evansville featuring John Mellencamp. McCain campaigns in Ohio. Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
I'll be live-blogging as Pennsylvania election returns roll in, at ABCNews.com.
Also making news:
The McCain tour began in Selma, Ala., on Monday: "It was an unlikely setting for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain to campaign in Monday: the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where black protesters were beaten in a 1965 march for voting rights," Michael Finnegan and Maeve Reston write in the Los Angeles Times.
"McCain joined hands later with black women who sang gospel spirituals to him as they rode a ferry across the muddy Alabama River near Gee's Bend, a community famous for its quilts and for its role in the civil rights struggle."
"McCain chose Alabama, one of the reddest states on the Electoral College map, to launch a week-long swing through some of the nation's economically distressed areas," ABC's Ron Claiborne writes.
"Even more extraordinary, McCain went to Selma, the site of one of the most notorious episodes of the Civil Rights movement, and talked about that episode."
Coming Tuesday: "Sen. John McCain heads for a battleground of the free-trade fight today," USA Today's David Jackson writes. "Youngstown, Ohio, is a struggling steel town where jobs have been lost and free-trade deals are unpopular."
In Youngstown, McCain plans to make a comparison to his once-hopeless campaign: "A person learns along the way that if you hold on - if you don't quit no matter what the odds -- sometimes life will surprise you. Sometimes you get a second chance, and opportunity turns back your way. And when it does, we are stronger and readier because of all that we had to overcome," McCain, R-Ariz., plans to say, per his campaign.
The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick and Jim Rutenberg write up the case of McCain and a developer: "For Mr. McCain, the Arizona Republican who has staked two presidential campaigns on pledges to avoid even the appearance of dispensing an official favor for a donor, [Donald] Diamond is the kind of friend who can pose a test," they write.
"A longtime political patron, Mr. Diamond is one of the elite fund-raisers Mr. McCain's current presidential campaign calls Innovators, having raised more than $250,000 so far," they write. "At home, Mr. Diamond is sometimes referred to as 'The Donald,' Arizona's answer to Donald Trump -- an outsized personality who invites public officials aboard his flotilla of yachts (the Ace, King, Jack and Queen of Diamonds), specializes in deals with the government, and unabashedly solicits support for his business interests from the recipients of his campaign contributions."
Newsweek's Holly Bailey points out that McCain isn't as funny as she thinks he is.
The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos sees a missed opportunity for Clinton at the debate. Clinton's missed opportunity: Why not sign on the dream ticket if you're Clinton? "Clinton clearly has more to gain from having Obama as her VP than vice versa: She has been looking for a way to persuade undecided superdelegates -- the party leaders who will provide the winning margin for either her or Obama -- that they can safely back her even if she doesn't win quite as many elected delegates as Obama in the primary elections."
If only the candidates themselves didn't see it as such a nightmare: "Some uncommitted superdelegates -- the party leaders and elected officials whose votes may determine the nominee -- see such a unity ticket as a way to short-circuit a fight for the nomination all the way to the Democratic convention in August, and to blend the voter bases of the two candidates," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.
"All that stands in the way are a few pesky details — like the fact that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton want to be done with each other, starting now."
Julie Nixon Eisenhower, a Pennsylvania resident, is "quietly" backing Obama, ABC's Diane Sawyer reported on Tuesday's "Good Morning America."
Michael Moore endorses Obama -- mostly because he's fed up with Clinton. "Over the past two months, the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting," Moore writes on his blog. "My endorsement is more for Obama The Movement than it is for Obama the candidate. That is not to take anything away from this exceptional man. But what's going on is bigger than him at this point, and that's a good thing for the country."
President Bush does . . . Howie Mandel?
"You can call me Hill-Rod." -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, addressing a WWE crowd the night before the Pennsylvania primary.
"That is not our plan Jon, but I think your paranoia might make you a suitable moderator." -- Barack Obama, denying to Jon Stewart that he has a secret plan to "enslave the white race."
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