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Why Obama can't close deal

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Filed: Timeline

y RON FOURNIER, Associated Press Writer

Tue Apr 22, 11:15 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Why can't Barack Obama put Hillary Clinton away?

He's flush with cash. He oversees a high-tech political movement. His "change" message fits these anxious times. And, until recently, he had momentum. So why didn't he win Tuesday?

And why can't he close the deal?

In the short term, it may not matter because Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania is unlikely to change the dynamic of the nomination fight: It's Obama's to lose; it has been since late February when Wisconsin Democrats handed him a 10th consecutive victory and an almost insurmountable lead in pledged delegates.

Longer term, he's got problems. Here are five reasons why Clinton is still alive. Five ways he'd be vulnerable in November.

RACE: The jury is still out on whether a black man can overcome America's original sin and be elected president.

About one in five Pennsylvania voters said the race of the candidates was among the top factors in deciding how to vote, according to exit polls, and white voters who cited race supported Clinton over Obama by a 3-to-1 margin.

Results from all the primaries suggest that whites who said race was important in picking their candidate have been about twice as likely to back Clinton as Obama.

An AP-Yahoo News poll found that about 8 percent of whites would be uncomfortable voting for a black president. The actual percentage is probably higher because voters are shy about admitting a racial prejudice to pollsters.

Both campaigns exploited the race issue. The Clinton camp maneuvered to cast Obama as a candidate whose appeal was limited to blacks. The Obama campaign seized every opportunity — at times overreaching — to accuse the Clinton campaign of playing the race card.

The issue was renewed when former President Clinton, asked in an interview broadcast Tuesday with Philadelphia radio station WHYY about comments he made before the South Carolina primary, said the Obama campaign "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," Bill Clinton said.

WORKING-CLASS VOTERS: Obama can't win the presidency unless he starts connecting better with blue-collar voters.

The New York senator easily won among Pennsylvania voters without college degrees and those from families earning less than $50,000 a year. Gun owners, rural voters and churchgoing Democrats also backed Clinton.

These are the folks who Obama said "cling to" guns and God, an inelegant attempt to explain to San Francisco liberals how GOP operatives exploit Democratic voters in anxious economic times. He bowled (poorly) and drank beer in a feeble attempt to show a blue-collar touch.

If Obama wins the nomination, he risks losing those voters to Republican John McCain. While 68 percent of Obama voters in Pennsylvania said they would vote for Clinton should she run against McCain, just 53 percent of Clinton voters said they would vote for Obama.

Race may be an issue here, too. For years, Republicans aimed affirmative action, school busing, welfare and other racially tinged wedge issues at white working-class voters.

FRIENDS IN TROUBLE: The longer the campaign goes, the more questions Obama faces about his friends and associates. (this is RICH & my favorite reason!)

He was forced onto the defensive by incendiary comments by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Friend and fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko faces corruption charges. And McCain is raising questions about Obama's relationship with former 1960s radical William Ayers, who has been quoted in an interview as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs" decades ago.

INEXPERIENCE: It's true that Clinton has never run a government or a business, but many voters give her credit for proximity. They consider her experience as first lady preparation for the presidency.

By any measure, Obama is relatively inexperienced, having left the Illinois Legislature less than four years ago.

METTLE: Clinton's backers love the fact that she fought Republicans — not to mention the "right-wing conspiracy" — during her husband's presidency. Many Democrats wonder whether Obama is tough enough, a charge that he should be putting to rest in this brass-knuckle nominating contest. But he hasn't. :lol:

Headed into Pennsylvania, the cash-strapped Clinton had to defeat Obama by a wide enough margin to stay in the race, raise money and eventually persuade a majority of party regulars — the so-called superdelegates — to side against Obama.

Victory in hand, she must keep winning — Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and beyond, all tall orders, and catch every break along the way.

"He broke every spending record in this state, trying to knock us out of the race," Clinton crowed in victory Tuesday night. "Well, the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas."

The question is whether superdelegates will get other ideas. Will they start wondering why can't Obama put her away?

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Filed: Timeline

Obama still struggles to win key constituencies

Blue-collar voters, women and white, non-Catholic men remain elusive

updated 2 hours, 7 minutes ago

PHILADELPHIA - Why can't Barack Obama close the deal?

It's a question Hillary Rodham Clinton and her surrogates raised through the last days of the caustic Pennsylvania primary contest. And unfortunately for Obama — who lost to the former first lady by a 10-point margin Tuesday night — it's a question that bears repeating.

The loss, despite a massive cash infusion and robust campaign presence in the state, underscores the persistent problems he's had winning over many of the voters who form the traditional Democratic party base.

While the Illinois senator remains overwhelmingly popular among blacks, affluent voters and young people, other groups key to building the Democratic coalition remain elusive.

Clinton bested him among white, blue-collar voters by a margin of 69 percent to 30 percent in Pennsylvania, similar to her showing in Ohio last month. She also won older voters, women and whites and improved her margins among white, non-Catholic men.

Limited success

To be sure, Obama has performed well among those groups in a handful of primaries, including Wisconsin and Virginia, both likely general election swing states.

Obama surely will emerge with sufficient delegates to maintain his overall lead, and Clinton's win in Pennsylvania will not do much to close the popular vote gap as she tries to eat into his margin. But the sense of momentum that propelled him to crushing margins across 11 contests beginning in February has slowed, raising concerns among many party activists that he will be left bruised and limping by the time the primaries end in June.

The Obama campaign points to the many advantages Clinton enjoyed in Pennsylvania: its large population of working class voters and seniors played to her strengths, and her family enjoys deep roots in Scranton, in the northeastern part of the state — a fact the New York senator never failed to bring up on the campaign trail.

Former President Clinton, who remains a popular figure here, campaigned extensively for his wife. And she had the support of Ed Rendell, the state's popular governor and a savvy political operative in his own right.

Favorable views

But Obama had considerable strengths of his own — money first and foremost. He spent $11.2 million on television ads to Clinton's $4.8 million. He spent countless more on phone banks, mail and voter targeting.

Surveys among Pennsylvanians after they left the polls showed they viewed Obama as more honest and trustworthy than Clinton, and that they favored a candidate who can bring about change — Obama's core message — over one who, like Clinton, has had years of political experience.

To be sure, the six-week hiatus after the last major primary in Mississippi were not particularly kind to either candidate.

Obama was forced to defend his association with his 20-year pastor, Jeremiah Wright, after videos surfaced showing Wright delivering anti-American sermons from the pulpit. Obama also was confronted with his own comments at a fundraiser in San Francisco, where he described small-town voters as bitterly clinging to guns and religion.

In the same period, Clinton came under withering criticism for her discredited tale of coming under sniper fire at an arrival ceremony in Bosnia as first lady in 1996. She stuck to the falsehood until television footage of the peaceful arrival surfaced, forcing her to acknowledge that she "misspoke."

Clinton also goes into the final nine contests at a significant cash disadvantage, although she said Wednesday morning in a round of television interviews that her campaign had raised $3 million online since winning Pennsylvania. She also must fight the perception that she is damaging Obama's chances in the general election by fighting on even with little chance of overcoming his lead in delegates and the popular vote.

Phil Trounstine, director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at California's San Jose State University, said that Obama's problems with key Democratic demographic groups are temporary and say nothing about how he would fare with those voters in a general election. "The notion that Obama cannot attract core constituencies is only being tested in matches against Hillary Clinton. That's not an argument that he can't win them against John McCain," Trounstine said. "If Barack Obama were the nominee, you would expect Ed Rendell and (Philadelphia mayor) Michael Nutter would work like crazy to deliver Pennsylvania. The same thing would happen in California and Texas, which Clinton also won."

After the drubbing he took in Pennsylvania, Obama needs to hope the so-called superdelegates likely charged with settling the contest will find that argument persuasive. Otherwise, what has been an epic Democratic nominating contest may be lurching toward virtual stalemate.

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