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Did Clinton, Obama Pass Pa. Primary's Key Tests?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Hillary Clinton's solid victory yesterday in Pennsylvania, beating Barack Obama by ten points, kept her in the race. Pennsylvania was considered a make-or-break for her. She was supposed to go big or go home. Here's how Clinton framed it last night to her supporters in Philadelphia.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): Some people counted me out and said to drop out. But the American people…

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. CLINTON: Well, the American people don't quit and they deserve a president who doesn't quit either.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MONTAGNE: Hillary Clinton is in Indiana today and will be in North Carolina tomorrow. Both states have primaries in two weeks. All of this leaves Barack Obama still with an edge in delegates. Obama was already in Indiana last night. In Evansville, he congratulated Clinton on her win and struck this conciliatory note.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): We are not as divided as our politics suggest. We may have different stories, we may have different backgrounds, but we hold common hopes for the future of this country that we love.

MONTAGNE: Joining us now is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, how much did the vote in Pennsylvania change the dynamic of the race?

LIASSON: Well, I don't think it changed the dynamic of the race, although it was an extremely important result for Senator Clinton. It gives her a new lease on life, quiets the calls for her to drop out, and although she did cut into Barack Obama's popular vote lead, she barely dented his delegate lead. But she does get to go forward, fight another day.

One of the problems is that it's been so expensive to fight in these big states. She goes forward with a fraction of the money that he has. It's almost like an arms race. He outspent her two-to-one in Pennsylvania, but he still has about $42 million in cash on hand and she has about eight to 10.

MONTAGNE: Well, one big test for Obama was whether he would win white working class voters. Did he make inroads there?

LIASSON: Very, very little. This is a big problem for him in the fall. These are the core Democratic voters for any Democratic winning coalition in a general election. And he hasn't been able to win them. They've been sticking with Senator Clinton all throughout the primaries.

Now, some Democrats say he has plenty of time to get these voters on his side, that once the party comes together in August things will change but her argument to the superdelegates is that these voters won't vote for him in the fall and therefore he's a weak candidate in important swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

He did do a tiny bit better than he did in Ohio with some of these voters, like seniors. And some Democrats say given the controversies over Reverend Wright and his comments about bitter voters, it's amazing he didn't do worse. But when you look at how well she did among white Catholics - almost 70 percent of the vote - among union members with no college education - almost 75 percent of the vote. She is very, very, very strong in these demographics.

And although he does really well with new voters - winning them by 20 points -he has a lot of work to do.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's turn to those all-important superdelegates, the ones who will probably decide which candidate becomes the nominee. Is a ten percent margin of victory enough to hold back a surge of superdelegates towards Obama?

LIASSON: I think so. There's been a steady trickle of superdelegates to Obama and that'll probably continue. You know, he himself has said that Senator Clinton is a heavyweight. You really have to knock her out, you can't win on points. And he has failed to knock her out, and that's what the superdelegates are watching.

He's had a lot of opportunities - he could've done it in New Hampshire or on February 5 - and he hasn't been able to do it. So, I think she did pass her test with the superdelegates.

MONTAGNE: So, onto Indiana and North Carolina. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.