PHILADELPHIA -- Hillary Rodham Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday night, defeating Barack Obama and staving off elimination in a riveting race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Hillary Rodham Clinton edged ahead in the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday night in a fight for survival against Barack Obama, her rival in a Democratic presidential race growing steadily more negative.
Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton campaigning in Pennsylavania this week in a composite image. [Agencies]
Early precinct votes from across the state showed the former first lady running ahead in the western part of the state, including Pittsburgh, as well as the area around Scranton with large numbers of blue-collar voters.
Obama was ahead in Philadelphia and the populous surrounding suburbs.
The last of the big states to vote, Pennsylvania had 158 delegates at stake, the largest prize remaining in a primary season that ends on June 3.
Interviews with voters as they left their polling places showed economic concerns dominated, with more than 80 percent of the electorate judging the nation already in a recession.
Clinton won among blue-collar voters, women and white men. Obama was favored by blacks, the affluent and voters who recently switched to the Democratic Party, a group that comprised about one in ten Pennsylvania voters, according to the survey conducted by The Associated Press and the TV networks.
Both rivals sought to shape expectations in advance.
Trailing in the national delegate chase and outspent badly in the state, Clinton needed a win to sustain her candidacy. She projected confidence by scheduling a rally in Philadelphia after the polls closed.
Obama, the front-runner, said he expected to lose, but narrowly, and worked to limit any erosion in his delegate lead. Even before the polls closed, he flew off to an evening rally in Indiana, one of two states with primaries on May 6. North Carolina was the other, and both campaigns have been airing television commercials in both for weeks.
While a Pennsylvania defeat for Clinton could spell the end of her candidacy, a sizable win would strengthen her claim to being the stronger general election opponent. It's an argument she has made to Democratic officeholders and other superdelegates who hold the balance of power at the party convention in Denver in August.
Whatever the outcome, the six-week run-up to the primary was notable for close-to-the-ground campaigning normally reserved for the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and for the decidedly negative tone of its final few days.
Flush with cash, Obama reported spending $11.2 million on television in the state, compared with $4.8 million for Clinton.
The tone of the campaign was increasingly personal.
"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."
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.
McCain, the Republican nomination already his, rose in the polls as he prepared for the fall campaign.
The remaining Democratic contests are primaries in North Carolina, Indiana, Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico, and caucuses in Guam.