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24 April 2008

And the winner is: the lawyers

Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania points the way to a farcical legal finale to the Democratic race

By Andrew Stephen

Remember my vision at the beginning of the month, with planeloads of Obama lawyers and Clinton lawyers jetting in to Denver at the end of August to argue who the Democratic presidential nominee should be? Hillary Clinton’s decisive, ten-point victory in Pennsylvania on 22 April brought that prospect ever closer, even assuming that Barack Obama trounces her in North Carolina on 6 May. Lawyers fighting furiously at the Pepsi Centre in Denver would be a fitting climax to show succinctly just how farcically chaotic the primaries system is – just, of course, when gung-ho, US-loving Brits are arguing that Britain itself should be introducing primaries.

Had the Democratic rules been the same as the Republican party’s – where the winner takes all the delegates in the states he or she wins, much as the electoral college system will work in November – Clinton would be ahead of Obama by a slightly bigger margin than he currently has.

So the decision, increasingly, will rest in the hands of the 245 super-delegates not yet com mitted to either candidate and those of 62 more who have not been named. The Obama lawyers’ arguments will centre around the statistics of the primaries and caucuses where he will have won a slim majority of delegates, while Clinton ites will insist (among other things) that Obama’s failure to win six of the country’s biggest seven states – Illinois, his home state, being the exception – shows that he will not be able to carry those states against John McCain and thus win the presidency for the Democrats.

In Pennsylvania, where 150,000 Obama supporters have registered as Democrats since January, Obama outspent Clinton by between three and four times – yet was still unable to romp to what the world has long since decided will be his inevitable victory, just as he had failed in Ohio and Texas seven weeks before. The Obama campaign spent $11.2m in Pennsylvania alone on what became a series of increasingly hostile television ads, compared with Clinton’s $4.8m.

Clinton’s ads, however, were more telling. “In the last ten years, Barack Obama has taken almost $2m from lobbyists, corporations and PACs,” intoned one, accompanied by a fast-scrolling list of the companies involved. “The head of his New Hampshire campaign is a drug company lobbyist, in Indiana an energy lobbyist, a casino lobbyist in Nevada – and Obama’s attacking Hillary?”

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The “animosity” of the campaign, however, has been hugely exaggerated – as anybody who has been to a typical Prime Minister’s Questions could testify – and there is still plenty of scope for it to get much worse. Far more depressing so far, as exit polls from last Tuesday’s primary showed, is that the country is increasingly divided along income, racial, gender and age boundaries. Men voted for Obama by 53-46 per cent, women for Clinton by 56-44. Black people voted for Obama by 92-8. Those aged between 18 and 29 voted 62-38 in favour of Obama, while people over 65 chose Clinton by 61-39.

Most revealing of all is that, in this economically battered, enormous state, voters earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year went for Clinton by 56-44 per cent – while those earning more than $200,000 voted for Obama by an astonishing 65-35. That kind of data fits neatly into a stereotype of Obama on which Clinton could yet capitalise: that he is an out-of-touch preppie whose entire upbringing was outside mainland America; that while she went to a typical state high school in Middle America, he went to the elitist private Punahou school in Hawaii.

Strengths and weaknesses

The genius of Obama’s campaign is that it has somehow been able so far to put forward a public persona that is completely at odds with the yuppie reality; his weakness, as his last televised debate with Clinton showed, is that he is easily rattled. Clinton, in turn, has shown enormous physical and emotional durability but at the expense of seeming less human. She has been strangely reluctant to put the knife into Obama, too, despite a plethora of potentially harmful material still ignored by the mainstream media.

And those money problems are only going to proliferate for her, even though Clinton’s team says she raised nearly $2.5m in the first three hours after polls closed on Tuesday night in Pennsylvania. Obama, who has now switched his drab 737 for a spanking 757 campaign jet, raised a staggering $42m in March alone – while the Clinton campaign is mired in debts of $10.3m.

The Clinton team will now fight to the death to have the “nullified” Florida and Michigan primaries included as legitimate. Should they be counted now, in fact, Clinton’s Pennsylvania victory may already have edged her ahead of Obama in the popular vote. Obama could easily see his $42m disappear in lawyers’ bills on this issue alone, but his case is dicey; in Florida, another superstate that the hard-headed super- delegates know the Democrats must win if they are to defeat McCain in November, his name was on the ballot paper alongside Clinton’s.

So now we move on to North Carolina and Indiana and beyond, then finally south to Puerto Rico on 3 June before heading back to Denver in August. Hillary will not wilt, we now know that. But why can’t Barack clinch the deal?