Hillary Rodham Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday night, defeating Barack Obama and staving off elimination in their riveting race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The former first lady was winning 53 percent of the vote to 47 percent for her rival with 19 percent of the vote counted, and she hoped for significant inroads into Obama’s overall lead in the competition for delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Clinton scored her victory by winning the votes of blue-collar workers, women and white men in an election where the economy was the dominant concern. More than 80 percent of voters surveyed as they left their polling places said the nation was already in a recession.
Clinton won despite being outspent heavily by her rival in a six-week campaign that allowed time for intense courtship of the voters.
She showed her blue collar bona fides one night by knocking down a shot of whiskey, then taking a mug of beer as a chaser. Obama went bowling in his attempt to win over working-class voters.
The win gave Clinton a strong record in the big states as she attempts to persuade convention superdelegates to look past Obama’s delegate advantage and his lead in the popular vote in picking a nominee. She had previously won primaries in Texas, California, Ohio and her home state of New York, while Obama won his home state of Illinois.
At the same time, even some of her aides conceded she is facing another likely must-win challenge in Indiana in two weeks time, particularly with Obama favored to carry North Carolina on the same day.
Clinton gained at least 28 delegates in Pennsylvania, with 130 still to be awarded.
That left Obama with an overall lead of 1648.5 to 1537.5, totals that include so-called superdelegates who are not picked in primaries and caucuses.
Clinton projected confidence to the end of the Pennsylvania campaign, scheduling an election-night rally in Philadelphia. Obama signaled in advance he expected to lose, flying off to Indiana for an evening appearance even before the polls closed.
Flush with cash, Obama reported spending $11.2 million on television in the state, more than any place else. That compared with $4.8 million for Clinton.
The tone of the campaign was increasingly personal — to the delight of Republicans and John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting gaining in the polls while the Democrats battle in primaries deep into the spring.
“In the last 10 years Barack Obama has taken almost $2 million from lobbyists, corporations and PACs. The head of his New Hampshire campaign is a drug company lobbyist, in Indiana an energy lobbyist, a casino lobbyist in Nevada,” said a Clinton commercial that aired in the final days of the race.
Obama responded with an ad that accused Clinton of “eleventh-hour smears paid for by lobbyist money.” It said that unlike his rival, he “doesn’t take money from special interest PACs or Washington lobbyists — not one dime.”
Also to the delight of Republicans, the six-week layoff between primaries produced a string of troubles for the Democrats.
Obama was forced onto the defensive by incendiary comments by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then triggered controversy on his own by saying small-town Americans cling to guns and religion because of their economic hardships.
Clinton conceded that she had not landed under sniper fire in Bosnia while first lady, even though she said several times that she had. And she replaced her chief strategist, Mark Penn, after he met with officials of the Colombian government seeking passage of a free trade agreement that she opposes.
The remaining Democratic contests are primaries in North Carolina, Indiana, Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico, and caucuses in Guam.
David Espo reported from Washington.