Clinton pulls out Pa. win; needs donors to notice

Pennsylvania voters ensured that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) will continue on in the Democratic nomination fight, giving the former first lady a badly needed win over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) Tuesday night.

After six weeks and the most expensive primary in the state’s history, Clinton succeeded in bolstering her argument that she can win in swing states with large white, blue-collar demographics.

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Despite the victory, the big board remains largely unchanged because of the Democratic Party’s formula for deciding the allocation of pledged delegates. However, the number that might matter most in the short run may be the size of the candidates’ bank accounts.

When the dust settles from Pennsylvania, Obama will no doubt continue to hold a delegate lead, a popular vote lead and an overwhelming money lead.

The last might be the most important in the coming weeks, as the race turns to the next big contests in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, two primaries for which Clinton is in dire need of a cash infusion almost immediately.

The most recent fundraising numbers paint a lopsided picture. Obama showed more than $40 million in cash on hand while Clinton showed more debt than primary cash on hand.

The final margin in Pennsylvania will likely be important in measuring Clinton’s strength heading into the next contests. With 61 percent of precincts reporting, the former first lady led 54 to 46.

If Clinton is able to close with a wide margin, which would run counter to what exit polls were showing, she would then be able to reach out to two crucial constituents – donors and superdelegates.

The donors might be more easily persuaded to contribute to Clinton if she shows she can put up big numbers and keep the fight alive.

The superdelegates will be inundated by calls from Clinton and Clinton advisers making the case that it is the former first lady and not Obama who has demonstrated the ability to win the big swing states that Democrats will need to win in November.

The Illinois senator, on the other hand has continued to make the case that the only metric that counts is the number of pledged delegates – a metric in which he owns a basically insurmountable lead.

Obama campaigned hard in the Keystone State, outspending Clinton by an estimated ratio of three to one, but the New York senator enjoyed a number of advantageous ties to the state, including the endorsement of the political machine that is Gov. Ed Rendell.

Aside from the winner, what was clear after the polls had closed was that a majority of Democratic voters in the state felt the race had turned sharply negative in the closing days and weeks.

Many Democrats and party leaders were already anxious about the tone of the race and beginning to hope for a way to bring the contest to an end. The six weeks in which the two Democratic candidates battled each other in Pennsylvania were six weeks that presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) largely had a head-start of sorts in the general election.

Pennsylvania represents yet another reprieve for Clinton in a race that has seemed stacked against her since the Iowa caucuses. But time and again, while against the ropes ahead of votes in places like New Hampshire, Texas and Ohio, Clinton has kept her hopes alive.

With Indiana the next big toss-up state on the map, both candidates made it clear Tuesday there was little time for a breather.

Obama went to the Hoosier State Tuesday night for a rally before the polls had closed, and Clinton’s schedule showed she was on her way there Wednesday.