The signs in the Park Hyatt in Philadelphia pointed to the "Celebration Event." But if you had only listened to the words that were being spoken, you might have thought you were at some kind of union rally. "She's a tough woman," intoned the first speaker, while the second promised that, "She will work for us every day." The band played a song with the chorus: "She won't back down."
Then Hillary Clinton herself took the microphone. The US television networks had already announced her victory in the Pennsylvania primary. The end result was clear: 55 percent for Clinton, 45 percent for rival Barack Obama. And the senator from New York celebrated in the same way as she has been running her election campaign for the last few weeks: As a fighter who rolls up her sleeves every morning -- and, if necessary, gets her elbows out.
"The stakes are high and the challenges are great," Clinton said. "But you also know the possibilities ... are endless with a president who's ready to lead on Day One." She said the sentence with pleasure, not least because many had already asked her to drop out of the race against Obama. "But the American people don't quit and they deserve a president who doesn't quit, either."
The audience in the overcrowded hall cheered. They waved signs with the message that Hillary is the "smart choice." "This would only happen in Pennsylvania," one man said. The applause was loud when Clinton finally announced: "The tide is turning."
The only question is: Where is the tide turning to exactly? It's true that Hillary Clinton has won a clear victory which will keep her candidacy alive. But it wasn't the kind of triumph that her team had hoped for -- a few weeks ago, Clinton was still about 20 percent ahead of Obama in the state.
It's an important distinction. After all, the bitter duel of the Democrats is no longer just about victory or defeat. It's about expectations, the distance between the candidates and success with certain groups of voters.
'A Win Is a Win'
But Clinton's advisers were clearly not interested in such nuances. "A win is a win," they thundered into the microphones. They pointed out that Barack Obama spent more than twice as much on TV ads in Pennsylvania as Clinton. But Obama, they say, clearly cannot win large US states with a white Democratic Party base -- something which will be particularly important in the fight against the Republicans in November. Their conclusion is always the same: Clinton is simply the stronger candidate against the Republican John McCain.
The advisers have plenty of figures at hand to support their arguments. Clinton has once again outclassed her rival in several important voter groups, such as the white working class and older white women.
Just how much they love Clinton could be seen at her victory party. The "Rocky" soundtrack played -- Clinton has often compared her struggle with the 1970s boxing story. One elderly lady in a pink polo shirt recognized the melody immediately and began to dance next to the stage. Clinton's assistants had positioned a crowd of young women on stage -- but they clearly found it hard to relate to the old film music, and looked bored as they waved their signs.
Still, they aren't really representative of Clinton's core constituency. And even Obama could take some solace in Tuesday's results. He ended clearly ahead in the state with the young, the better educated and first-time voters. Amongst African-American voters, he scored a 92-8 percent victory over Clinton. His advisors are now defiantly peddling those figures as a success story. Besides, they had already lowered expectations in the runup to the vote. They did so because Clinton's family is originally from Pennsylvania and because the state is home to many old, Catholic, Caucasians and Democrats of simple means. These are all groups that have shown a preference for Clinton.
Moving on to Indiana
The candidate himself had already left Pennsylvania by Tuesday night, traveling on to Indiana, where the next primary is scheduled to take place on May 6. During an event in Evansville, he addressed the results as if they were a small hiccup on the way to the White House. "We were able to narrow the gap," he said, looking to the future.
In polls for the next primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Obama is performing well. He has a clear lead in North Carolina; and in Indiana, he is more or less even with Clinton. A victory for Obama in North Carolina alone would be enough to make up for his loss on Tuesday in Pennsylvania. As before, he still has a clear lead in the primary campaign: He's won the most states, he has the popular vote and he has the most delegates for the Democratic nominating convention in August. He's also got a lot more money in his war chest than Clinton: $42 million. Clinton's team is as good as broke, but her advisors said that within a few hours of Tuesday's victory, millions of dollars worth of donations had already started to pour in.
Nevertheless, Obama has still taken a beating. New York Times columnist David Brooks poignantly wrote last week that the messiah has fallen to earth. That, of course, is a normal part of elections, but one that has been a difficult pill to swallow for enthusiastic young Obama supporters.
Bitter Weeks ahead for the Democrats
After his loss on Tuesday and his unfortunate comments about "bitter" voters in areas like Pennsylvania, he will face questions anew about his ability to attract working-class, white voters. Clinton's aides will also continue to try to paint a picture of Obama as a man too weak to fight against the Republicans in the main election -- especially when it comes to persuading the superdelegates, the around 800 Democrats who can cast their voters for whichever candidate they prefer at the nominating convention.
During the past few feverish days, Clinton has even gone so far as to indirectly compare her rival to George W. Bush: America, she has said, cannot afford to entrust itself to another inexperienced president. During last Wednesday's debate, Clinton murmered about Obama's alleged links to a former 1960s, left-wing bomber. And in its latest ad, the Clinton team even includes an image of Osama bin Laden along with the suggestion that Obama is not prepared to deal with crises.
Will the mudwrestling match get even dirtier? Media reports state that Obama's advisors spent part of election night discussing whether they should go on the offensive against Clinton with similarly harsh attacks. Indeed, the Democrats will have further bitter weeks ahead of them. Despite the fixation on the primary results, both Democratic Party camps have ignored another important statistic: More than 40 percent of Democrats -- once completely fascinated by the duel between Obama and Clinton -- now perceive the primary campaign negatively.