By Ewen MacAskill and Suzanne Goldenberg |
Hillary Clinton is expected to keep her slim hopes of the White House alive after exit polls suggested she would beat Barack Obama in the key Pennsylvania primary. The Fox News Channel and ABC, on the basis of the exit polls, projected Clinton would emerge the winner.
This means the long, drawn-out battle for the Democratic nomination is set to continue for at least several more weeks and possibly even into June or August.
Even before a single vote had been counted, Clinton supporters in Philadelphia were celebrating and Clinton was scheduled to hold a lavish victory party in the city, though the campaign is in debt. But Obama, anticipating defeat, had left the state for Indiana, where the next contest will be held on May 6.
Her supporters are hoping that a win will help bring in new funding for her cash-strapped campaign.
Pennysylvania, the largest state left in the contest, was the first primary since Mississippi six weeks ago.
A win in Pennsylvania would help her case for remaining in the race, in spite of Obama having established an almost unassailable lead with only nine contests left.
In a record turnout, she was helped by a large turnout of older voters and women, both of whom tend to vote for her. Younger voters, who tend to support Obama, made up a smaller proportion than in previous contests.
There was a clear cultural divide, with a majority of churchgoers, gun-owners and those living in rural areas and small towns opting for Clinton.
He may have suffered from the controversy over the views of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but especially his apparently derogatory remarks about those living in small towns.
The balance in Pennsylvania was held by white male votes, a majority of whom backed Clinton by 55% to 45%. Reflecting the racial divide that has dogged the primary contests, African-Americans threw their weight overwhelmingly behind Obama, by 92% to Clinton’s 8.
Obama began the night with a substantial lead in delegates, who will choose the party’s nominee: 1,648 to 1,509. But the proportional system used by the party means the 158 delegates at stake in the Pennsylvania primary will be divided between them and that she will make no real impression on his lead.
Election officials reported record turnouts across the state – in Philadelphia and its environs, which Obama is expected to dominate as well as in the small towns of western and central Pennsylvania where Clinton is believed to have an advantage.
Joe Sestak, a former navy admiral now serving his first term in Congress, and a Clinton supporter, told reporters he believed that Clinton would win by at least 5% – a clear victory, but still short of the margin needed to alter the dynamics of the race.
But in central Philadelphia it appeared as if the day belonged to Obama. His supporters were out in force on street corners, handing out leaflets and holding up signs. One volunteer said the campaign had gone to the extent of leafleting lockers in local sports clubs.
The next contests are North Carolina and Indiana on May 6, with Obama expected to take the first and the second too close to call according to polls. She expects to take West Virginia and Kentucky while he hopes to take Oregon and South Dakota. Montana is too close to call.