Pa. Vote Could Be Do or Die for Clinton

For the first time in six weeks, Democratic voters are going to the polls to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. For Clinton, a defeat could force her from the race. But even with a win, she still would face steep odds in her quest for the nomination. But if she won big? What message would that send to the superdelegates who may ultimately decide the party's nominee?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It is the final day for the Democratic presidential candidates to order up cheesesteaks or stop by Pennsylvania's Italian markets. Voters are finally going to the polls in the Pennsylvania primary.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have had six uninterrupted weeks to campaign in Pennsylvania. They're trying not only to win the popular vote and a decisive share of the state's 158 delegates. Clinton and Obama also want to send a message to the Democratic Party's superdelegates, who may ultimately tip the nomination's scales. Polls in Pennsylvania close at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to go over some different scenarios that could play out today. And Mara, if you look at this numerically, Pennsylvania is obviously a key contest but won't be decisive.

MARA LIASSON: Probably not. Now, it could be decisive if Barack Obama wins, in which case Hillary Clinton would be under tremendous pressure to quit the race. More likely is that Hillary Clinton would win but not by a blowout margin to stop him from picking up plenty of delegates. He has about a 140-delegate lead right now, and that's because - as we stress every single primary night - that the Democratic Party has this byzantine way of dividing up their delegates where the loser always gets some. And they're not based on the popular vote, but they are awarded to these congressional districts based on the previous Democratic vote.

So, the African-American districts in this - Philadelphia and in the inner cities where Barack Obama's going to do very well have a history of high turnout, and he's going to get a lot of delegates there. The rural districts where she's going to do better have a history of lower turnouts, so there are fewer delegates at stake there.

BLOCK: How would you describe what the different tests are for each candidate, possibly looking forward to a general election contest in November?

LIASSON: Well, for Hillary Clinton, the test is can she win by a big enough margin to convince the superdelegates to at the very least stay neutral till the end of the contest. This would keep her campaign alive. For Barack Obama, the test for him is to see if he can make inroads into her demographic, those white, working-class voters that have until now stuck with her, and without which many Democrats believe no Democrat can win the important swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Missouri in the fall.

BLOCK: Mara, you've been talking to some of the superdelegates; there are a number of those undecided superdelegates who hang in the balance. What do you see happening after Pennsylvania? How much of a rush will there be for them to commit?

LIASSON: Well, if he does very well I think there will be a bit of a rush. There's already been a steady trickle to him among superdelegate endorsements. If he does very well tonight, you'll see more. We keep on hearing there's a bloc of North Carolina's superdelegates poised to swing to him and announce their support. But they're waiting for him to win somewhere, and he really hasn't done that since March 4th, when she started winning these big states. I think that if she does really well, you're going to see very little movement among the superdelegates, they're just going to hold their fire.

BLOCK: Briefly, Mara, one other number to consider here is money, and who has it?

LIASSON: Boy, he has it. He has $42 million cash on hand. She only has eight. She has raised and spent $170 million, that's a lot. She certainly doesn't have as many resources as he does to fight the remaining contests.

BLOCK: Okay, Mara, thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: It's NPR's Mara Liasson.

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