Joined by her husband and daughter, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up her final Pennsylvania campaign push last night at a passionate rally at the packed and sweltering Palestra.
"This has been an extraordinary campaign, and it has been for all the right reasons," Clinton told the audience of about 7,000 supporters, who frequently drowned her out by stomping on the old bleachers of the University of Pennsylvania's arena.
"It's not enough to say 'Yes we can,' we have to say how we can," Clinton said, a clear put-down of the hopeful chant characteristic at the rallies of her rival, Barack Obama.
Her voice hoarse, Clinton gave a laundry list of promises - out of Iraq, making college affordable again, lowering the price of gasoline. The audience was so joyous it even cheered when she used the word incentivize, referring to vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. The word biofuels brought the crowd to its feet.
The theme for the evening was comeback. Gov. Rendell, noting that Clinton had been counted out several times, predicted the naysayers would be wrong again. "We all better get used to saying two words: Madame President."
Bill Clinton, holding the crowd's attention while his wife's arrival was delayed, shared some Clinton laws of politics: "If somebody tells you you ought to quit, they're afraid you won't."
The Penn pep band and a lineup of Clinton political supporters, including daughter Chelsea, warmed up the crowd. The words Hillary for and President appeared where the names of the teams would be on the Palestra scoreboard. The game clock was set at 20:08.
In reality, precious little time remains in the game for Sen. Clinton: She must win today or go home. And she quite probably has to do more than just win. Clinton's best hope, political analysts and strategists say, is to rack up a big popular-vote margin in Pennsylvania and use that to help persuade superdelegates to move her way for fear of losing in November.
Two new polls taken over the weekend and released yesterday showed Clinton maintaining a lead. The Quinnipiac University survey said she was supported by 51 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, to 44 percent for Obama. And a separate poll by Suffolk University in Boston pegged Clinton's advantage at 52 percent to 42 percent.
Still, the lead reflected in those polls is at least half what Clinton enjoyed when campaigning for Pennsylvania began six weeks ago. Obama had been closing the gap, but the race stabilized after a number of difficult moments - including his much-discussed remarks at a fund-raiser that "bitter" small-town residents of the state cling to religion and guns.
The Quinnipiac poll found the same demographic divisions that have defined most of the contests between the two rivals. Said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute: "She wins in Western Pennsylvania; he wins in the East. She gets Catholics, white women and the blue-collar labor vote. He captures men, blacks and college grads."
Clinton advisers say Obama's difficulty in winning those key parts of the Democratic coalition has cost him swing states that will be vital to victory over Republican John McCain. Ohio, whose primary Clinton won March 4, is among those states.
Obama has outspent Clinton 3-1 on TV ads alone in a race that has cost more than $15 million so far. He said yesterday he was the underdog and would consider it a victory to come close in Pennsylvania, while Clinton advisers said any size defeat would raise serious questions about Obama's electability.
Election eve is a time for reinforcing a campaign's central message, not trying out new arguments, and Clinton repeated her contention at stops in Scranton, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg that she was "ready from day one" to be president and offered pragmatism over oratory.
"I don't want you to take a leap of faith or have any guesswork," Clinton said in Scranton, not naming names.
She started the day in Scranton, promising to "summon us to something greater than ourselves" as the nation's first female president.
Introduced as the "hometown girl," Clinton implored 500 supporters in the Masonic Temple ballroom to remember her as the daughter of Scranton native Hugh Rodham - one of their own, rather than the historical figure she has become - and to help her win today's make-or-break primary.
"We need to really bear down. The last day is here and the entire world is watching," Clinton said, as the crowd roared and interrupted her with "Madam President" chants. "I appreciate your having my back and here's what I want you to know: As your president, I'll have your back."
Later in Pittsburgh, Bill Clinton watched his wife from the edge of the crowd as she spoke to 5,000. "They were dancing on her grave in Texas, and she won anyway," he said. "They never thought, after they outspent her 2-1 in Ohio, she could still win by 10 points. So, we'll see. She's got a lot of good supporters here. We'll just see. I don't know what's going to happen."
A new Clinton TV commercial that began airing yesterday suggested in stark terms that Obama could not handle the job of president. The ad features images of Osama bin Laden and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, quotes Harry S. Truman, and closes with an elemental question: "Who do you think has what it takes?"
It was reminiscent of the "3 a.m." ad Clinton ran before the Texas and Ohio primaries, which tried to raise doubts about Obama's ability to handle a military crisis.
His campaign responded with an ad of its own by the end of the day, saying the question voters should ask is "who in times of challenge will unite us - not use fear and calculation to divide us."