PHILADELPHIA (BP)–Hillary Clinton easily won the support of weekly Democratic churchgoers in the Pennsylvania primary April 22 in an election that once again showed deep divides within the party.
Clinton carried the state, 55-45 percent, and edged Barack Obama among those who attend church weekly (61 percent to Obama’s 39 percent) and more than weekly (51-49 percent), according to exit polls. Combined, the two groups made up 36 percent of Democratic voters. Obama won among those who never attend church, 56-44 percent (a group comprising 17 percent of voters).
While Clinton and her supporters were celebrating, Democratic officials with no strong preference either way were bemoaning the fact that the increasingly bitter election would continue at least another two weeks — Indiana and North Carolina hold their primaries May 6 — and possibly another four months until the Democratic National Convention.
Among the reasons for concern: a significant minority of Pennsylvania Democrats said they would vote for McCain, or not vote at all, if their candidate doesn’t win the nomination. If it’s a Clinton-McCain race, 10 percent of Democrats said they’d vote for McCain and 7 percent said they’d sit it out. If it’s Obama-McCain, 15 percent said they’d vote for McCain and 10 percent would stay at home. That could make a big difference in a tight general election, particularly in a state like Pennsylvania that typically has voted Democrat in recent history.
Clinton appears unable to catch Obama in the delegate count, so instead is arguing that he is unelectable in a general election. It was the third straight loss in a big state for Obama, following defeats in Texas and Ohio.
“It’s a long road to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and it runs right through the heart of Pennsylvania,” Clinton told cheering supporters. “… Some people counted me out and said to drop out, but the American people don’t quit and they deserve a president who doesn’t quit either.”
Among the divides within the party, according to exit polls:
— Young people supported Obama, older people Clinton. Obama carried the 18-29 and 30-44 age groups, Clinton the 45-59 and 60-older groups.
— Whites voted for Clinton, blacks for Obama. Clinton carried 62 percent of the white vote; Obama carried 89 percent of the black vote.
— Women backed Clinton, men Obama. Clinton won among women, 57-43 percent, while Obama won among men, 52-48 percent.
Additionally, 32 percent of Democrats who voted said they’d be satisfied only if Clinton wins, and 23 percent said they’d be satisfied only if Obama wins. Moreover, 41 percent said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, while 31 percent said the same about Obama.
Time Magazine’s Amy Sullivan said the infighting is helping presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
“It is no longer just the Chicken Littles within the [Democratic] party who openly worry about an outcome that leaves large blocks of women or African-Americans frustrated and alienated,” she wrote. “The extended race is also clearly getting to Obama, who is noticeably fatigued on the stump and lacks the energy that drew in so many new voters earlier in the primary season.”
The liberal magazine New Republic went one step further, and in a post-primary Internet column ran a picture of Obama with the headline, “The Next McGovern?”
“Obama’s weaknesses as a general election candidate grow more apparent with each successive primary,” John B. Judis wrote. ” … Indeed, if you look at Obama’s vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the ’70s and ’80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State’s Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia. Its ideology is very liberal.
“There is nothing wrong with winning over voters who are very liberal and who never attend religious services; but if they begin to become Obama’s most fervent base of support, he will have trouble (to say the least) in November.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.