PA Primary: The Expectations Game

Reporting from Pennsylvania, I attempt to survey advocates and political analysts on the expectations game in The New York Sun.

The Clinton campaign is arguing that because Barack Obama outspent it here by a 3 to 1 margin, Hillary Clinton only needs to win the state outright. Most people I talked said she needed a win in the high single digits or double digits, although a new Suffolk University poll suggests she may get that. 

Here’s a flavor of the story: “At stake today is the future of the Democratic nominating contest in which voters have been casting ballots for nearly five months, as well as the political fate of a New York senator who has been in the national limelight for 16 years. If Mr. Obama wins or loses only by a slight margin, money could dry up for Mrs. Clinton, a reality that could mean the end of her campaign. A sizeable victory for her, on the other hand, could propel her forward and represent the third major contest, after Texas and Ohio, during which Mr. Obama has failed to seal the deal with Democratic voters.

This primary, a Des Moines Register political columnist, David Yepsen, pointed out in an interview, is best thought of as analogous to the Iowa caucuses, where expectations mean more than the actual results.

Though Mrs. Clinton held a 20-point lead in some Pennsylvania polls six weeks ago, observers say she could certainly bill a 10-percentage-point win as a triumph, considering that Mr. Obama has spent millions more dollars on advertising in the state. ‘Perception-wise, if these polls hold up that would be a pretty decisive win with being outspent,’ the director of Suffolk University’s political research center, David Paleologos,  said. ‘I think it’s on to Indiana.’

A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Steven Grossman, who is a Clinton super-delegate, said that a big win would cut into Mr. Obama’s popular vote advantage and help with fundraising. ‘It keeps her legion of smaller contributors energized and continuing to fund her.’

A supporter of Mr. Obama who is president of New Future Communications, Jamal Simmons, said ‘if the race is closer than 10 points that will be a blow to the Clinton campaign and people will begin to call for her to lower the rhetoric, take down some of the negative ads and run on her issues, otherwise she will just start to look like a sore loser.’

‘Anything short of her Ohio victory margin [10 points] will leave Clinton in a weak position to prevent a further and more accelerated erosion of support among super delegates,’ a Brookings Institution senior fellow, Thomas Mann, said. ‘If Obama wins or loses narrowly, I suspect he will have a majority of delegates in two weeks, with his harvest in North Carolina and Indiana and a rush of support from uncommitted superdelegates.’ “

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