New York Times editorial scolds Clinton

But was her victory in Pennsylvania really not a "big win"?

Published April 23, 2008 3:55AM (EDT)

The lead editorial in Wednesday's New York Times, "The Low Road to Victory," blasts Sen. Hillary Clinton for going negative in her campaign for the Democratic nomination: "It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election." It argues that Clinton's harsh campaign "ended up squandering a good part of what was once a 20-point lead."

But did Clinton ever really have a 20-point lead in Pennsylvania to squander? Not likely, according to Jerome Armstrong, writing on Averaging various polls put Clinton up by 9.5 in February, 12.9 in March and 6.4 in April. As Armstrong points out in the comments on that blog post, the 20-point lead figure is based on a single, widely quoted poll taken in January, rather than monthly averages of many polls. No matter, by 10:27 p.m. Eastern time, the Obama campaign was already blasting out e-mailed excerpts from the blistering Times editorial to the press (judiciously leaving out the digs that the editorial gets in at Obama for taking Clinton's bait, of course).

The Times editorial is notable not only for its vehemence but for its characterization of Clinton's victory as not a "big win." After all, the lead story about the election in the very same newspaper called Clinton's showing in Pennsylvania a "decisive victory." That could be because the Times editorial was already declaring the night not "the big win in Pennsylvania she needed to challenge the calculus of the Democratic race" before the results had been settled. Obviously, the Times editorial closed before some Pennsylvania precincts had reported and Clinton's margin of victory had widened; that's abundantly clear from the time stamp on the e-mail from the Obama campaign trumpeting the editorial to reporters. Or, maybe Clinton would have had to have won by 20 points for the Times editorial writers to consider her margin of victory sufficient enough to "challenge the calculus of the Democratic race."

In any case, the piece raises the broader question that everyone will be debating on Wednesday: How exactly does one define Clinton's Pennsylvania victory in this wild race?

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Katharine Mieszkowski

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton Pennsylvania War Room