WASHINGTON (MCT) With a poll showing her solidifying a comfortable lead in Pennsylvania, Hillary Rodham Clinton rolls her campaign to that stronghold state today, sidestepping a direct presence in Mississippi ahead of its primary Tuesday.
Polls show rival Barack Obama way ahead in Mississippi, where on Saturday, former President Bill Clinton said a Democratic ticket of his wife and the Illinois senator would prove nearly "unstoppable." Obama, who leads in the total delegate count and won Saturday's Wyoming caucus, scoffed at being Clinton's vice president.
Clinton, who herself broached the idea in a TV interview last week, begins a two-day sweep through Pennsylvania starting in Scranton, returning to a city where her father was born and is buried and where she has support from an economically battered, largely blue-collar population.
Clinton has increased her lead in Pennsylvania to 52 percent, over Obama's 37 percent, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted last week a near four-fold increase on the 4 percentage point lead she had in February.
The campaign isn't resting on those numbers ahead of the April 22 primary, however. "We're going to try to really blanket the state with visits" by Clinton, the former president and daughter Chelsea, said Pennsylvania campaign spokesman Mark Nevins.
Pennsylvanians are "just getting to know" Obama, his campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday. "While the Clinton campaign may want people to believe that the only contest coming up is Pennsylvania, the reality is it is their state to lose and we plan on campaigning in all of the states with upcoming contests," she said.
Nevins said Clinton is starting the campaign swing in Scranton because of her family's roots. They own a cottage in the area, where Clinton spent summers as a child.
Michael Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University, said the focus on Pennsylvania is well-advised given Obama's strength in Mississippi and the importance of Pennsylvania's 158 delegates. (A second Rasmussen poll has Obama ahead in Mississippi 53 percent to Clinton's 39 percent.) Clinton didn't ignore Mississippi however, campaigning hard there Thursday and Friday, as did her husband and daughter.
"Pennsylvania sets up nicely for Clinton, very similarly to Ohio, where she did very well," Fauntroy said, noting Clinton has the backing of Gov. Edward Rendell. In addition, he said, "It's not a given she can hold her lead given Obama's strengths among African-American voters," predominantly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Obama could pull an upset, Fauntroy said, if he gets an "extraordinary turnout" among black voters, and manages to "crack this downscale white voter who has moved to Hillary Clinton." With the primary six weeks away, Fauntroy said, "I think he can do it."
Nevins, noting Philadelphia's popular African American Mayor Michael Nutter supports Clinton, said, "We certainly don't concede any portion of the state, or any portion of the electorate."
Campaigning is going on amid wrangling over disqualified primary contests in Michigan and Florida. Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean suggested progress was afoot in the effort to seat disqualified delegates.
Pennsylvania, like Wyoming, is not used to playing a role in deciding the Democratic nominee for president, with the lateness of its primary. Nevins said the increased urgency has created a groundswell of supporters and volunteers for Clinton, including around 1,500 new people in the past week, creating a network totaling "several thousand" volunteers in the state.
Senators from both states, he said, were "working very, very hard to try to solve their problems for their states."
Clinton won in both states' unofficial primaries, and wants the results to stand. The possibility of rerun elections hinge largely on who will pay for them. Dean, on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," said the issue was "bigger" than Michigan or Florida. He hinted at a possible resolution, saying mail-in ballots were "not a bad way" to handle it.
"We have a very close contest between two people who are likely to be elected President of the United States, whichever one wins the nomination," he said. "I have to run these rules so that the losing side feels they've been treated fairly."