PITTSBURGH - An older white woman with a thick accent (what I take to be Eastern European) looks at a

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

front-page color photo of Hillary Clinton as I pay for the paper at a downtown 7-Eleven.

In the photo, Clinton smiles broadly, holding raised hands with former legendary Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff as Gov. Ed beams a big smile behind them.

"Vaht's she celebrating?" the woman asks.

I offer that I suspect Clinton believes she's going to win.

"Good," says the woman, "Let her believe that. I believe [Barack] Obama is win."

An amusing encounter.

But this woman, by all accounts, is an exception in these parts.

If Pennsylvania, as the Guv and the Clinton campaign profess, is "Clinton Country," this is its capital.

Western Pennsylvania, a different state than eastern Pennsylvania, strongly favors Clinton over Obama in next week's primary.

Polls released yesterday (Quinnipiac) and today (Daily News/Franklin & Marshall) show Clinton up 5 to 6 points here in Allegheny County but up 38 points (both polls) in southwestern counties surrounding Allegheny.

Both polls show Obama with a big lead in Philly.

"It really is reflective of the experiences each part of the state has had in the last 20 to 30 years," says former three-term Mayor Tom Murphy, now working at the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

Murphy says the region still lives with the trauma of lost steel jobs and still struggles to succeed in a post-industrial economy.

"Clinton gets what western Pennsylvania went through and its recovery efforts," says Murphy. "Obama articulates an uncertain future while Hillary is more comforting."

Philly's poorer than Allegheny County (21 percent of city residents live below the poverty level; in Allegheny County it's 11 percent), but regionally it's the reverse.

Median income in counties surrounding Allegheny is $40,265 (the state number is $43,714); in counties around Philly $62,943.

Clinton polls better with working people making less than $50,000.

There are demographic differences favoring Clinton.

Western Pennsylvania is older and whiter, which benefits Clinton: Allegheny County is 83 percent white; Philly is 46 percent white.

Pittsburgh's never had a black mayor.

Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, tells me the city "could be ready" to elect a black mayor "more so than in the past," but she also notes "corporate America in downtown Pittsburgh is appalling [in hiring African-Americans for managerial jobs and] we still have an awful lot of work to do."

She cites a 2007 University of Pittsburgh study that says African-Americans in Pittsburgh earn far less in management and professional jobs than the national average, and median income in black Pittsburgh households is $10,000 less than in white households.

The age factor? Of the region's population, 17 to 18 percent are 65 and older, higher than the state average. In the Philly region, it's 12 percent to 14 percent, lower than the state average.

"There's less of what I'd call the Main Line influence here," says Chatham University president Esther Barazzone, who formerly worked at Swarthmore and Penn.

"Pittsburgh has lots of educated, sophisticated people," she adds, "but they are counter-balanced by a long labor tradition and that's a much stronger influence."

And it's evident.

An informal poll of a hurried lunchtime crowd at the Original Oyster House on Market Square (paper plates, plastic forks, "jumbo" fried-fish sandwiches, Iron City beer) favors Hillary, as does a similar head-count during rush hour at a bus stop on Liberty Avenue.

I find John Earll, 49, a union carpenter from next door Westmoreland County and an exception to the expected, who tells me he and his wife are voting for Obama.

And Barazzone says 100,000 college students just in Allegheny County can help Obama.

But Clinton has the support of popular county executive Dan Onorato, Pittsburgh's boy-mayor Luke Ravenstahl (age 28) and lots of other local officials.

Dawn Synborski, involved in Democratic politics 43 years, a borough councilwoman in Brentwood in Pittsburgh's South Hills, volunteers for Clinton enthusiastically.

I find her in Clinton's downtown headquarters making calls for the candidate.

"I love Hillary and it's time for a woman, and Bill Clinton did such a fantastic job and I know they'll discuss things, and it's like getting two for one," she tells me.

Yep. Lots of evidence Clinton does very well here.

So much so the region could set

the stage for her to be smiling broadly next week and, well, "celebrating." *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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