From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Pennsylvania counts -- a lot, the Clinton campaign stressed on a conference call with reporters.
"If Barack Obama can't win there, how can he win the general election?" Chief Strategist Mark Penn asked, re-iterating the thesis of a memo the Clinton camp sent out yesterday. That memo was ridiculed by the Obama campaign in a response e-mail to the media, which line-by-line commented on and edited the Clinton memo.
"If someone on my staff wrote that I'd fire them," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Clinton supporter who was also on the call.
All this comes on the heels of an Obama conference call yesterday when Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe stressed, "This is not just about Pennsylvania. They [the Clinton campaign] are the prohibitive favorite in Pennsylvania. We will not be defined by Pennsylvania. We will try to get the most votes and delegates, but we won't cherry-pick states."
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton surrogate also on the call, took humbrage. "Diminishing Pennsylvania is offensive," he said.
Plouffe added in yesterday's call a famliar refrain for the Obama campaign: "This is a race for delegates." He also stressed Obama will focus on, in addition to Pennsylvania, the other nine contests, including Indiana and North Carolina, which combined have more delegates at stake (187) than Pennsylvania (158).
At the crux of the Clinton camp's argument is that Pennsylvania is a critical swing state. But this is not a general election; it's a primary and as NBC's Mark Murray wrote yesterday there is no direct correlation historically between primary victories and general-election ones.
In addition, a poll the Clinton campaign cited on the call to show that their candidate holds an 18-point lead in Pennsylvania, also shows Obama faring slightly better than Clinton against McCain among Keystone Staters in a general-election match up.
"Look there are different polls explaining different things," Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson explained when asked about it. He cited the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which "shows them in same place" against McCain.
He continued, "The bottom line is, and the Obama campaign would admit to this, the general election is going to be extremely competitive, and John Mccain is going to be a very formidable nominee… I don't think there is any sense, from the Obama campaign, that it would be somehow a cakewalk. All the polls show both candidates are running equal against Sen. McCain. That's somewhat less important than nominating the best person."
That's not quite the same thing as saying, "If Barack Obama can't win there [in Pennsylvania], how can he win the general election?"