Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Clinton Short on Cash, Long Primary Fight in Doubt

Early exit polls from Pennsylvania (here and here) suggest that the recent campaign mudslinging's battered the images of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Polling stations will not close for about another hour and a half, but the turnout numbers are showing that 6 in 10 voters are women (thus
maybe a little New Hampshire sympathy might rub off on Clinton in the Keystone State).

Clinton needs a win desperately, for even if she's still got a breath of hope with the superdelegates, she won't be able to campaign much longer without the injection of cash a win tonight may bring.

The Wall Street Journal's got more:

If Sen. Obama is able to pull off a surprise win in Pennsylvania, Sen. Clinton will likely have to drop out of the race. But even if Sen. Clinton wins, it's unclear how much that will help her bid to overtake the front-runner. Sen. Obama holds a lead of about 140 delegates, according to the latest Associated Press tally. Because the delegates are given to candidates in proportion to their share of the popular vote, the two candidates are likely to split Pennsylvania's 158 delegates roughly evenly, unless Sen. Clinton wins in a blowout.

In addition, her finances may hamper her ability to contest aggressively the remaining primaries that end on June 3.

Sen. Obama reported to the Federal Election Commission Sunday that he had $42 million available at the end of March to spend on the primaries. Sen. Clinton's filing showed she had only $8 million in the bank and debts of $10.3 million to outside vendors.

Almost half that debt was to the polling firm of Mark Penn, whom she removed as her chief strategist earlier this month. In addition to the $10 million debt, she has yet to repay the $5 million she loaned her own campaign in January.

Clinton backers played down the significance of the money gap, arguing that success in Pennsylvania could lead to a flood of new donations. "A convincing victory will be empowering," said Steve Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a top Clinton fund-raiser. He defined that as winning by a margin of at least five percentage points.

"We'll be honoring our debts in the weeks and months to come...no matter who they are to," campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said on a conference call with reporters.

The Clinton campaign has visibly cut corners in recent weeks. It downgraded to a smaller chartered plane earlier this month, though it got a bigger aircraft in the final days before the primary to accommodate a larger traveling press corps. A menu of hot meals gave way to cold box lunches. Staffers spend more nights at the Holiday Inn and fewer at the higher-end Radisson hotel chain.

In the final hours before the last big contests -- in Texas and Ohio on March 4 -- the Clinton campaign bought an hour of airtime on Fox Sports Net to broadcast a town hall hosted by "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria Parker, which was broadcast throughout the state. A victory party in Columbus, Ohio, offered staffers a catered meal including miniature quiche, chocolate mousse and freshly squeezed lemonade.

In the final days before the Pennsylvania primary, Sen. Clinton took advantage of a flurry of free air time with a scripted appearance on the Colbert Report on Thursday night, followed by Monday night interviews with CNN talk-show host Larry King and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.

Clinton aides are portraying the lack of funds as an opportunity to paint Sen. Clinton as an underdog who can continue to pull off strong showings even without deep pockets.
She's been an underdog for some time now, a plucky one at that. If the polling trends from the last couple of days hold up - with an added Hillary-boost from those 6 in 10 women voter turnout numbers - maybe we'll indeed see the underdog have its day one more time.