Pennsylvania is Hillary's Last Stand

Six weeks before the titanic engagement at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in May of 1863, Robert E. Lee was sitting in President Jefferson Davis' office pleading with him to allow his army to march northward and engage the Union troops in a decisive struggle that would determine the outcome of the war.

Davis, despite serious misgivings, could hardly turn down his most successful general. A few days later, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia broke camp and started the long, slow, slogging march to Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the Union troops, realizing that Lee was on the march northward, also broke camp and started their own march up the dusty Maryland roads to a date with destiny.

Perhaps what made Gettysburg such a huge historical event - a "hinge of history" - was the fact that as the two armies made their way toward Pennsylvania, everyone in the in the country, North and South, knew that the coming showdown would determine the fate of both countries. Both sides collectively held their breath as the two great armies got closer and closer to their date with destiny.

At the end, the tension became almost unbearable - which made the explosion of violence at Gettysburg all the more dramatic.

Barack Obama's victory in Mississippi was no surprise. But in a very large way, both last Saturday's win for Obama in the Wyoming caucuses and tonight's win in the Magnolia state's primary are insignificant. Already, the attention of Democrats is turning toward Pennsylvania and what is shaping up to be the campaign's Gettysburg - the decisive contest where the winner could very well be the nominee of the party.

Pennsylvania will be the 9th of the 10 largest states in the union to hold a primary. To date, Hillary Clinton has won 6 of the 8 races with Obama's big state victories coming in his home state of Illinois and Georgia. But Democrats do not expect to do well in Georgia in the general election nor in North Carolina, the last of the top ten big states to hold a primary scheduled for May 6. In addition, Clinton won New Jersey, another key northeastern state and one considered vital for Democratic chances in November.

This, of course, is Hillary Clinton's case that she is making to the Super Delegates who will decide who the nominee of the Democratic party will be. Despite the slight edge in pledged delegates and raw popular vote enjoyed by Obama, how can the Democrats enter the general election campaign with a candidate who has shown weakness in states the party must win in order to prevail in November?

A Hillary Clinton win in Pennsylvania - especially a big win - will probably start a movement of Super Delegates in her direction. It won't be decisive given that a number of Supers will hold off endorsing anyone until the convention. But it will almost certainly allow her to catch up and perhaps even surpass Obama in total delegates.

This is hugely important because it will cut into Obama's argument that he has the most democratically elected delegates as well as a probable edge in the raw popular vote. But Obama has wracked up the majority of his delegates in caucuses as well as smaller states where Republicans are traditionally strong. His argument loses some of its steam when set against the party's desperate desire to win the presidency.

Given the stakes, it is almost a certainty that some sort of nominating contests will take place in Florida and Michigan, overturning a ruling by the National Committee that took away all of their delegates to the convention as punishment for moving up their primary dates. But what do you do with the 3 million Democrats who have already voted in those states and gave Hillary Clinton decisive victories?

It is an unbelievable tangle that absolutely must be sorted out before June 6 when party rules say that the nominating contest is over. Holding primaries - usually funded by state legislatures - is prohibitive. An idea to hold a mail in primary is a possibility but a logistical nightmare. Florida Democrats have already decided on a mail in revote but it is unclear whether the Obama campaign or the National Committee will allow it. Michigan seems amenable to compromise but there's no guarantee that anything can be worked out that would allow for a nominating contest before the June 6 deadline.

All of this is in the future. For now, the party will watch the two candidates slug it out over the unbearably long stretch of 6 weeks until Pennsylvania votes on April 22. And slug it out seems to be the plan that both campaigns have adopted.

Hillary Clinton's attack on Obama's inexperience finally seems to be resonating with voters, largely as a result of the so-called "3:00 AM" ad. In Texas, the ad ran statewide for the last 72 hours of the campaign and late deciders in that contest flocked to Clinton's cause by a whopping 3-1 margin.

But Obama is not only fighting back, he's delivering some withering blows against Clinton in the process. Mocking her claims of experience, a memo by foreign policy honcho Greg Craig released by the Obama campaign makes it clear that the man who wanted to run a positive campaign can go negative with the best of them:

There is no reason to believe...that she was a key player in foreign policy at any time during the Clinton Administration. She did not sit in on National Security Council meetings. She did not have a security clearance. She did not attend meetings in the Situation Room. She did not manage any part of the national security bureaucracy, nor did she have her own national security staff. She did not do any heavy-lifting with foreign governments, whether they were friendly or not. She never managed a foreign policy crisis, and there is no evidence to suggest that she participated in the decision-making that occurred in connection with any such crisis...

The Clinton campaign's argument is nothing more than mere assertion, dramatized in a scary television commercial with a telephone ringing in the middle of the night. There is no support for or substance in the claim that Senator Clinton has passed "the Commander-in-Chief test." That claim - as the TV ad - consists of nothing more than making the assertion, repeating it frequently to the voters and hoping that they will believe it.

This from a former Clinton State Department official basically calling Hillary Clinton a liar. And it answers the question of whether Obama was tough enough to get into the trenches with Hillary Clinton and fight for the nomination.

We can expect more of the same for the next 6 weeks as both sides tear at each other in an effort to make the other appear less attractive to vital constituencies. How bitter will it get? Six weeks is a long time and the stakes are so high that it may get very bloody indeed. I believe we will be hearing less and less of an Obama-Clinton (or vice versa) ticket as the weeks drag on. Certainly Hillary Clinton is averse to taking the second spot. And it's hard to see how she can ask Obama to serve as Vice President when she has recently said that John McCain was better prepared to be Commander in Chief than Obama.

But the real nightmare scenario that very few Democrats are talking about involves a revote in Michigan and Florida with Clinton winning both contests and surpassing Obama in the raw popular vote while Obama maintains a lead in pledged delegates. In that case, who has claim on the nomination?

It appears more and more likely that the Democrats are going to need the wisdom of Solomon to resolve this crisis in their ranks. And for the next 6 weeks, the country will watch closely as both candidates maneuver toward their own Gettysburg on April 22.

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.