Pennsylvania a Last Best Chance for Clinton Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving tells Liane Hansen that if Hillary Clinton wins Pennsylvania's upcoming primary, the debate will turn to whether her margin of victory is large enough.
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Analysis by Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving

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Pennsylvania a Last Best Chance for Clinton

Analysis by Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

In two days Pennsylvania will hold its presidential primary with 158 delegates at stake on the Democratic side. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are spending the weekend in Pennsylvania fighting not only for those delegates but for the upper hand in the national contest.

Joining us to talk about all of this is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: There have been so many pivotal primaries, make or break events, during this very long campaign. What does Pennsylvania really mean?

ELVING: It still means a great deal. It is the last big state, it's the sixth most populous, it's the last blue state - the last state that's going to vote that's really big and that's been voting for the Democrats, well, at least for the last four presidential elections. So it's Hillary Clinton's last best chance to show she's got the momentum now and she's going to become the popular favorite again.

If that is in fact the truth, if that is in fact what's going on in this campaign. And she has this chance to show she's the better vote against McCain in November than Barack Obama.

HANSEN: So, what do the polls in Pennsylvania show? Is Mrs. Clinton still ahead?

ELVING: She is. In most all the polls she's running now in the middle single digits. Now, of course, she used to a have a lead two or three times that large. But she's pretty much been able to freeze the Obama momentum and hold onto a four-, five-, six-thereabout-point range. I just saw a poll in the Kansas City paper this morning from McClatchy newspapers and MSNBC that shows her up by about that much.

But with a larger bulge among bowlers, gun owners and hunters, running only even, though, among beer drinkers.

HANSEN: Are you getting anything from the national polls?

ELVING: The national polls are a little bit more all over the map. There's a Newsweek poll out this weekend that shows Obama up nationally as the choice of Democrats with over 50 percent of the vote and a 19-point lead over Clinton. That looks like a bit of an outlier though. Most of the other polls are in the 10-point, 12-point range, and then there's one out with the Gallup tracking poll that tends to go up and down with just a few points lead for Obama.

So the average runs in the high single digits for him nationally.

HANSEN: Was last week's debate a factor in any of those figures?

ELVING: Yes, we would have to assume that it has become a factor, and that at least in the very latest polls that were taken after that debate it's already been priced in. It was not Barack Obama's best debate. It was perhaps not Hillary Clinton's best debate. It may not have been the greatest feather in the cap of ABC but it was watched by more people than any other debate in this entire campaign. So we have to figure that it's having some impact.

It would appear that it was perhaps the first point where a lot of people began to hear some of these negatives that have been coming out about Obama. And also it would appear it has frozen his momentum, because he had been rising - as I mentioned earlier, the Clinton lead had been much greater in Pennsylvania - and Obama looked like he might close the gap and actually catch her there.

HANSEN: Briefly, Ron - 30 seconds - do you think there's going to be a clear victor on Tuesday night?

ELVING: I think that Clinton will win by several points and then the argument will become whether the margin was great enough to be satisfying from the standpoint of what she needed. Is it the momentum builder? Is it the reverser that she needs? She needs something that really turns this thing around.

If on the other hand he does catch her and upset her in Pennsylvania, that would appear to be a knockout blow.

HANSEN: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, as always, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Liane.

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