ON PAPER, Pennsylvania's hers.

Doesn't mean she wins the nomination, but it sure helps make the case that she wins big, electoral-vote-rich states key to winning the presidency.

How so here?

We're an old state, an industrial state and a labor state.

That's a template for established Democrats with economic messages aimed at working folks. Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.

(Labor in Western Pennsylvania lent phone banks to Clinton supporters this week for get-out-the-vote calls to Ohio.)

She does well with older voters. We've got a ton: 15.2 percent (1.9 million people) of our population is 65 or older. Percentagewise, we trail only Florida and, narrowly, West Virginia, in aging. So, as one Daily News editor quips, she'll "go for the old."

She has ties here.

Her father, Hugh Rodham, was born in Scranton and is buried there. She still has relatives (and there's a family lake cabin) in the area, an area where family ties can outweigh other factors.

She and Bill Clinton were in Scranton for a family christening last spring in the same church that Hillary, her two brothers and her father were baptized.

(Her father brought his kids from Chicago to Scranton's Court Street United Methodist Church for baptisms.)

Veteran Democratic strategist Ed Mitchell, of Wilkes-Barre, says, "A lot depends on her momentum. There could be a lot of excitement behind her. And she does well in all demographics among older women, and that's especially true in Northeast Pennsylvania."

Clinton's husband carried the state twice, in '92 and '96. Many of his key supporters and fundraisers also actively back her.

She's been endorsed by Gov. Rendell, Mayor Nutter and state Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney.

Then there's the nature of Pennsylvania: accustomed to familiar things; a place where hope and promise and progress for so many are "just words;" a place, as its governor has said, of "some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American."

Rooney tells me, "The state sets up very well for Sen. Clinton. Pennsylvanians don't get swept up in the moment. They tend to be hardscrabble, wanting to know 'what are you gonna to do for me?' and she seems to connect with that kind of voter."

So when Clinton campaign senior adviser Harold Ickes says, as he did on a conference call yesterday, "I think she's going to do very well in Pennsylvania," it's more than wishful thinking.

The four most recent statewide polls - from Rasmussen, Franklin & Marshall, Quinnipiac and the Allentown Morning Call - all conducted in February, show her leading Barack Obama anywhere from four to 14 points for an combined average of nine points.

Her lead isn't what it once was. She was up 33 points last November, 20 points in January.

But, according to Clay Richards, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director, the state, for Clinton, seems ready-made.

"I almost think if Sen. Clinton sat down with a map and got to pick which state to have a big finish in, she'd pick Pennsylvania," says Richards.

"It's right between New Jersey and Ohio, both of which she won, and it's similar to both," he adds, "plus two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters say we're in a recession," which seems the perfect audience for the current Clinton message.

In this extraordinary election season all things seem possible. Obama hasn't been visible here, and that is about to change. The pattern has been that when he shows up, poll numbers move in his favor. We'll see.

Pennsylvania likely won't be decisive, but it sure will be relevant.

Obama faces an uphill fight. It should be Clinton's to lose.

And after? Will the fight go all the way to the convention? As Quinnipiac's Richards puts it, the way things are going and the way the Democratic selection process works, "they may never get out of Denver." *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to