The longest and most agonizing gap between primaries ends at 8 p.m. Tonight, Pennsylvania gives a popular vote victory to Hillary Clinton. Tomorrow, the candidates race to Indiana, the only truly up-for-grabs state left in the primary season. (Obama's already in Indiana, actually, getting a head start on the Clintons. I'm hoping on a Pennsylvania upset just for the slapstick comedy of the Obamas racing through the airport to arrive in the state and claim victory.)
Carrie Budoff Brown and Ken Vogel have a fine guide to election-watching, pointing out that, unlike in some states (Maryland, Ohio), the cities and suburbs report their results before the scattered rural towns. Jon Vaught LaBeaume has hard data analysis at Election Dissection. The Ohio exit polls will be a good barometer of this race. Has Obama's white support gone up or down?
The Democrats. There are two ways in which Pennsylvanians could actually impact the Democratic primary. The first would be handing Hillary Clinton a tub-thumping landslide, a 20-point win in which she sweeps all but one county (Philadelphia). The second would be a miraculous Obama upset, as rural white voters un-clench their Bibles and muskets and vote for the skinny kid with the funny name. I'd give these scenarios a 10 percent and 5 percent likelihood of unfolding, respectively. Yes: a 5 percent chance of an Obama win.
Barring some sort of Clinton meltdown, Obama never had a chance to win this state. His goal was to keep the score close, and to improve on the pathetic performance he had with white voters in Ohio, to prove to party elders that the campaign bus will be safe if they hand him the keys. Even after a solid month of negative storylines, polling suggests that… it's working. Clinton's lead, which got as high as 26 points, is down to an average of 6 points. Obama has plateaued at around 44 percent of the vote. In recent contests, the undecided vote has broken for Clinton, so I'm betting on a 55-44 victory for Clinton. What could change that: high rural turnout, the Philly machine successfully cutting into Obama's usual black support, or the Philly burbs (which could make up 25 percent of the total state)
The Republicans. I think Ron Paul blew an opportunity here. In 2000, Pennsylvania Republicans voted a full month after McCain was knocked out of the GOP race. The result: A fairly weak 73.5 percent victory for George W. Bush. More than a quarter of Republicans refused to back their candidate. With Mike Huckabee and Paul on the ballot, the last anti-McCain holdout had, I believe, a chance to scare up 15 to 20 percent of the vote. Instead he made a few terribly botched statements that led people to believe he'd left the race and took two perfunctory trips to the state. He spent yesterday in… Montana.
Still, don't expect McCain to get some Saddam-esque vote margin. The highest GOP turnout will be in the northern, rural 5th and 10th districts, among the kind of voters who'd been casting ballots for Huckabee until he dropped out of the race. I'd give McCain 86 percent of the vote in a low-turnout primary, with 5 percent for Ron Paul and the rest to Huckabee or write-ins.
UPDATE 8:00: Daily Kos has exits, which show both a surge of older voters (vis a vis Ohio) and a substantial recovery for Obama from groups he lost in Ohio.
8:13: The regional exit poll is interesting: Obama mopped up in Philly (69-31) and the burbs (62-37), which he needed to do to avoid humiliation. Clinton's margin is coming from the northeast and west of the state. If this holds, though, Clinton's winning by less than 10 points.
8:23: After all the fuss about gun-clinging, guess how much of the electorate owned the fearsome things? Thirty-seven percent. Clinton won them handily, and Obama won non-gun-owners.
8:27: On my TV screen, Howard Fineman says Obama's strategy was to grind Clinton down in Pennsylvania and bankrupt her for the rest of the primaries. It's the Verdun of primaries!
8:33: Lowest common denominator watch: Ten percent of voters think neither Obama nor Clinton is "trustworthy." Clinton won them by 55 points.
8:34: Two-thirds of people think Clinton is "in touch with" them. How many think Obama is in touch with them? Two-thirds. So much for bittergate.
8:50: Every network projects for Clinton with 1 percent of the vote counted.
8:53: Interesting. CNN has adjusted its exit polls down, with seniors dropping from 38 to 33 percent of the vote, under-29s rising from 10 to 12 percent.
9:12: Jim Geraghty hears that Clinton might launch ads mocking Obama for turning down debate invitations. That would be stupid. She ran that ad when Obama ducked Wisconsin debates, and then he pulverized her in the state primary.
9:16: I way overestimated McCain's support, as he's struggling to get 72 percent in his basically uncontested primary.
9:41: One group Clinton improved on, compared to Ohio: Weekly churchgoers. (I'm done quoting the exits as they keep morphing.)
9:46: Marc Ambinder explains why this doesn't matter:
If Obama keeps his pledged delegate lead to around 150, Clinton needs to win 70% of them on May 6 -- and if not, 80% of them after May 6.
That's more than next to impossible.
That's why I'm paying attention to Obama's weakness among certain groups of voters. It's encouraging, if you're a Republican. It's not encouraging enough if you're Clinton. Obama needed to melt down under the wave of controversies, but he merely wilted a little, then kept on moving.
10:10: I'm not watching Fox News; friends who are inform me that the Bradley Effect theory is getting pushed hard, with Obama expected to massively underperform the exit polls in the suburbs. It's the kind of thing we'll know by midnight.
10:36: I'll never understand exit polls. They're actually underestimating Obama's Philadelphia margin at the moment, by 3 or 4 points. This leads me to believe Fox's Bradley Effect proponent Pat Caddell was full of shit.
10:50: Meanwhile, the Democrats nearly won the Mississippi seat of Roger Wicker, the congressman who replaced Trent Lott in the Senate. Their candidate got 49 percent of the vote, so it goes to a 2-way runoff.
12:39: Hats off to the rEVOLution: Ron Paul will come out ofhis home state with around 127,000 votes, giving him around 974,000 votes total for the caucuses and primaries that have wrapped thus far. He'll undoubtedly hit one million for the whole primary season: More than Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, or John Edwards.