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CAMPAIGN '08: THE DEMOCRATS

Clinton and Obama descend on Indiana

She argues that her wins in industrial states make her a better rival for McCain. He reminds her that he's still in the lead.

April 24, 2008|Michael Finnegan, Noam N. Levey, and Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writers

INDIANAPOLIS — A day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Sen. Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary, the epic battle for the Democratic presidential nomination lurched onward to Indiana, with new squabbling Wednesday over who is best equipped to win the general election.

Facing steep odds against catching Obama in the delegate count, Clinton argued that her victories in big industrial swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio showed that she could wage a more competitive fight in November against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

"We're going to have a vigorous election in the fall. . . . And what you have to ask yourself is who you believe would be the better nominee to go toe to toe against John McCain," the New York senator told supporters outside the American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis.

Obama rejected that reasoning, saying he still led in the delegate count, the number of states won, and -- by all measures other than the Clinton campaign's -- the popular vote. The Illinois senator also lamented the prolonged nomination fight, saying he agreed with those who fear it is damaging the party.

"There's no doubt that if we have additional time to bring the Democratic Party together and focus on the Republican nominee, then we'd be stronger for it in the fall," Obama told reporters after a rally in New Albany, Ind. "And that's why we'd like to wrap up this campaign as quickly as possible."

The Democratic rivals each campaigned Wednesday in Indiana, which along with North Carolina will hold its primary May 6. But their main audience was a few hundred superdelegates, the party and elected officials who likely will be forced to break the Democratic stalemate.

It takes 2,024 delegates to win the nomination, but neither candidate can capture that many in the final contests over the next six weeks.

Clinton carried Pennsylvania by a margin of just over 9 percentage points but barely shaved Obama's lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention. She cut his lead from 139 to 131, according to the Associated Press.

Polling of Pennsylvania voters Tuesday offered new evidence that Obama and Clinton have fractured the Democratic Party into two distinct coalitions. Among those in Obama's corner: black, upscale, better-educated and younger voters. In Clinton's: white, female, lower-income, less-educated and older voters.

Clinton's campaign made a case Wednesday that her strength among white blue-collar voters, especially in Ohio and Pennsylvania, would be crucial in the general election.

Independent analysts said Clinton would probably keep drawing support from those voters in the contests ahead -- but that did not make her any more electable than Obama.

"The demographic coalitions of support put together by the two candidates appear firmly in place by this point in the campaign, and it's likely that the winners in the states to come will be determined more by the composition of the population in those states than by any result of campaigning," Frank M. Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, wrote in an analysis of the Pennsylvania vote.

"At the same time," he added, "Clinton's argument that she is more electable in the fall does not appear at this juncture to have support in national data; both she and Obama fare equally well when pitted in polling against McCain."

Obama dismissed concerns about his continuing trouble in building support among white working-class voters. The bigger challenge, he said, was to lure older Democrats away from Clinton.

"The problem, to the extent there is a problem, is that older voters are very loyal to Sen. Clinton," he said. "Part of that is they have a track record of voting for not just Sen. Clinton but also for her husband."

Obama recalled his victories in battleground states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia, saying he stood a better chance than Clinton of defeating McCain in those states.

In response to a question from a woman at his Indiana rally, Obama also suggested that the final results of the primaries and caucuses should guide the ultimate choice of superdelegates.

"I have to admit I'm a little self-interested here," he said. "But I do believe the elections we've been doing should count for something. If we've won the most delegates from the voters, it seems to me it might be a good idea to make me the nominee."

Clinton disagreed. On ABC's "Good Morning America," Diane Sawyer asked Clinton if it would send the wrong signal for superdelegates to overturn the popular vote.

"No, not at all," Clinton said. The party has entrusted superdelegates to "exercise their independent judgment, which indeed is what they will do."

Phil Singer, Clinton's deputy communications director, circulated a magazine website story that said Obama's Pennsylvania vote reflected "the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the '70s and '80s, led by college students and minorities."

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