What Double-Digit Win!: Rounding Out the Pennsylvania Primary Story
The corporate media have been quick to buy into and promote the Hillary Clinton campaign claim that she won the Pennsylvania primary by "double digits," but the truth is, that involves a bit of creative rounding.
The final figures for the vote are that Clinton won 1,258,245 votes out of 2,300,542 cast, compared to 1,042,297 for Barack Obama.
If you do the math, that works out to 54.71 percent for Clinton, and 45.31 percent for Obama.
Now granted, if you use the convention of rounding up numbers 5 or above and rounding down numbers below 4 and below, you get 55 percent for Clinton and 45 percent for Obama. But if you take the actual numbers, 54.71 and 45.31, and calculate the difference, it works out to 9.40 percent. And that is a number closer to 9 than to 10.
That is to say, it is more correct to say either that Clinton won by 9.4 percent, or, if you want to round the answer, 9 percent. Either way, it's not a "double-digit" win. It's a single-digit win.
Given that Obama came into the Pennsylvania race with polls showing Clinton ahead by a whopping 20 percent, getting that margin down below 10 percent has to be rated a pretty impressive accomplishment. Add in the viciousness of the Clinton campaign's attacks on Obama, which played deliberately and shamelessly to the racial fears of her aging white, Catholic, working-class, less-educated female base, and it looks even more impressive.
That said, I think Obama ran a poor campaign in Pennsylvania. He relied heavily on television advertising, which has a diminishing impact the more that is spent (doubling a small number of ads can have a big impact, but doubling a large number won't accomplish much). He spent most of his time campaigning in Clinton strongholds, trying to lure Clinton voters away, and precious little time in his own strongholds -- especially in Philadelphia's large black communities, which not surprisingly failed to turn out in the record numbers that his campaign needed, and which his historic candidacy should have logically gotten.
In part, Obama is hemmed in by his own national strategy: He is not running as a "black" candidate, and there is certainly the danger that if he got down into the streets and worked to generate real excitement in the projects and slums of cities like Philadelphia or Wilkes-Barre, he would simultaneously stoke the racist fears of white voters. But if he wants to win the nomination, and go on to win in November, he will clearly have to take that risk. (And it is considerable: Exit polls in Pennsylvania showed Obama losing by five percent, which means many people actually voted against him but didn't want to admit it to pollsters, suggesting that many didn't want to confess to casting an anti-black vote. Governor Ed Rendell, a Clinton backer, also famously noted that there are many people in Pennsylvania who "simply won't vote" for a black candidate.)
Obama has the same problem in confronting the Clinton attack machine. In the Philadelphia debate, where he was assailed from three sides, by Clinton, and by the two ABC "moderators," Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, Obama tried to avoid returning the same kind of cheap-shot fire. In his six-week campaign in Philadelphia, too, he was far less willing to, and ultimately late in his counter-attack against Clinton's redbaiting, race baiting and other assaults, trying to offer what he calls a "new" kind of politics.
Again, it's clear that this "above the fray" kind of campaign strategy is not going to work -- especially going forward. Americans say they want positive, issue-oriented campaigns, but they really want blood on the floor. Clinton is delivering that blood. Obama is going to have to do the same.
Finally, if he wants to win those white, working-class voters, and the women voters who are backing Clinton, Obama needs to do more than talk about Hope and Change. He needs to start talking concretely about fighting for women's equality (he has two daughters -- the case is easy!), he needs to talk concretely about ending not just the Iraq War, but the nation's obsession with military spending, he needs to talk seriously about the crisis of global warming (not just creating green-energy jobs!), he needs to talk seriously about protecting American jobs, and he needs to talk seriously about how to break the insurance industry's grip on the health care dollar.
In short, he needs a much more aggressive and focused campaign.
He should start by questioning her "fuzzy" math in claiming a double-digit win in Pennsylvania.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006, and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net