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First thoughts: Secret to Hillary's success

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The secret to Hillary's success: So how did Clinton win so decisively last night? The answer is women, specifically white women. They continue to be as important to her success in these primaries as new voters and African-Americans have been to Obama. Per the exit polls, 47% of the Pennsylvania Democratic electorate last night was made up of white women, higher than any other race/gender subgroup. Clinton ended up winning them by more than 30 points, 66%-34%; in Ohio, she won this group, 67%-31%. The question that everyone seems to be asking now is: Why can't Obama put Clinton away? The AP's Ron Fournier takes a stab at answering this, and he points to five reasons (race, working-class voters, friends in trouble, inexperience, and mettle). But to us, women seem to be the bigger reason. They continue to rally to her side; nothing has shaken their confidence in her. If Clinton continues to beat Obama by 30-plus points among white women, how can he knock her out?

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the questions following the Clinton victory in the Pennsylvania primary.

*** Rocking the suburbs: What's more, Clinton must have won white women decisively across the state's geographic landscape, because there's no other explanation for her pulling off the upset in the Philly suburbs. To most lay observers, Obama looked to be a lock to win the Philly 'burbs; the only question was by how much. But he didn't win them. Overall, Obama carried just seven of the state's 67 counties. In his successful gubernatorial primary win over Bob Casey in 2002, Ed Rendell carried 10 counties -- and the big difference between Rendell's path and Obama's was that Rendell carried Montgomery and Bucks counties, while Obama lost MontCo narrowly and got clobbered in Bucks. This success by Clinton in the suburbs, by the way, might be the best talking point the campaign has going forward because it's the first evidence in weeks that Clinton has finally cut into Obama's coalition. Of course, Pennsylvania could simply be her Wisconsin, where everything that happens in the state, well, stays in the state. Remember Wisconsin? That was Obama's supposed big break through in cutting into Clinton's coalition of white, working-class voters and even white women. Wisconsin didn't take for Obama. Will Pennsylvania take for Clinton?

*** The Tar Heel equalizer? Like it or not, the Obama folks are going to have to deal with the fact that popular vote is going to be a metric for SOME superdelegates. The good news for them is that not every superdelegate thinks this is a fair barometer, but enough do that the Clinton campaign is going to successfully tout this measurement. But this fight for the popular vote could be very short-lived. While the contest for pledged delegates is over, with Obama holding what now appears to be an insurmountable 150+ lead, the fight for the popular vote lives on for another two weeks. But it may be on for ONLY another two weeks. Why? North Carolina. A top-10 population state, Clinton can't afford to lose it at all -- let alone lose it by 10 points or more -- because if she loses the state by 10 points, she'll lose 150,000 of the 200,000 in popular vote she gained yesterday. And if she loses by 15 points, he can wipe out the 200,000-plus she netted completely. After May 6, there's just not enough vote for her to catch up. So while all eyes may be on Indiana as a "tie breaker" (the words of Obama, not us), North Carolina may be a bigger key in two weeks. Because of North Carolina's size, the Clinton campaign is going to have a harder time dismissing the state's significance than they did Mississippi and some of the smaller states. The Clinton campaign has an effective talking point against Obama on this idea he can't win in certain big states, but the effective talking point Obama has is that he competes in every state. And this is why she can't avoid North Carolina because it's a big state, so it's not something she can avoid. She can keep going if she wins Indiana but she can't win the nomination; if she wins North Carolina, THAT would be a game changer, period.

*** Another Obama-is-Reagan analogy: Now what? The biggest shot in the arm for Clinton appears to be financial. The campaign took pains last night to make sure everyone was updated minute by minute about her online fundraising success last night (some $2.5 million in the three hours following the Pennsylvania election call). Financially, the Clinton camp is living dollar in, dollar out (while the debt piles up). This could mean the significance of Pennsylvania won't fully be known until after May 6. Why? Because if Obama sweeps Indiana and North Carolina, one of the reasons will be his financial advantage. In fact, there's a chance that what Obama did to Clinton in Pennsylvania is akin to what Reagan did to the Soviet Union in the 1980s -- He dragged her into a spending war she couldn't keep up with. Still, as of right now, Obama's looking like someone who is limping to the nomination battered and bruised rather than sailing through smoothly. Bottom line: this is a cold war and the candidate with the deeper pockets is likely to hang on.

*** It's a bird, it's a plane, it's another Obama superdelegate: Before the sun even rose, the Obama campaign rolled out the endorsement of Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a superdelegate and someone from one of those uncontested red states. Interestingly, Oklahoma is a state Clinton carried on February 5 -- by A LOT. By the way, does Clinton have an interesting superdelegate endorsement or two in her back pocket right now? She just hasn't had a BIG endorsement in weeks. Of the remaining "gets" the one that seems most likely to come to her side (and would serve as a real boost) would be John Edwards, although he's not a super. Newsweek's Howard Fineman said on MSNBC last night Elizabeth Edwards is likely to show up at a Clinton rally or two, but can she convince the ex-candidate to come over? It's a tough decision for John Edwards since Obama is such a heavy favorite in his home state.

*** Perception vs. reality: Perception always means more than reality. For instance, last night, just how important was it that Clinton's lead got to 10 points rather quickly and stayed there before settling down to 9 points? With 99% of precincts reporting, it was Clinton 54.69%, Obama 45.31%. What if her lead was 6-7 all night, and then ended overnight at 9 points? It's a little thing, but perception for her (and her donors) is everything right now. For those wondering, Clinton won Ohio by more than 10 points, 55.23% vs. 44.77%.

*** Where we stand: Obama leads in pledged delegates per the NBC hard count (1482 to 1326), overall delegates (1720 to 1588), the popular vote (14,447,568 to 13,964,439), and total number of contests won (29 to 15). Note: We're not including Texas in this last total, given that Clinton won the primary but Obama won the caucus and netted the most delegates. That new popular vote total (not counting FL or MI) has Obama leading Clinton, 49%-47%. For those keeping score, that's a difference of 483,129. Projecting the rest out…