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PITTSBURGH - As the Democratic candidates entered the finishing kick of their Pennsylvania primary campaign marathon, a new poll depicted Hillary Clinton clinging to a slim lead over Barack Obama.
Mrs. Clinton led with the support of 48 percent of the Democrats surveyed, compared with Mr. Obama's 43 percent. The five-point advantage was just outside the margin of error of the survey conducted for the Post-Gazette, McClatchy Newspapers, and MSNBC by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
The findings suggested that after six weeks of campaigning against a candidate with more funding, Mrs. Clinton retains the opportunity for a tactical victory in the state.
The broader question is whether a Clinton victory would be enough to propel her campaign through the final 10 contests and on to the Democratic convention against a candidate who came into Pennsylvania with a seemingly insurmountable lead in delegates.
If Mr. Obama were to overcome her lead and win Tuesday in Pennsylvania, however, the long nomination battle would be all but over.
Given the dynamics of the contest, Mr. Obama can win by losing - provided that he does not lose by much.
In an MSNBC interview over the weekend, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Clinton supporter, said a loss in Pennsylvania would be a "door closer" for her White House ambitions.
The Mason-Dixon survey showed many of the demographic contrasts that have recurred through the primary season.
Mrs. Clinton did well with women, whites, older voters, Catholics, and those most interested in the candidates' experience. Mr. Obama had an advantage among men, younger voters, Protestants, African-Americans and those interested in bringing change.
The Mason-Dixon interviews took place Thursday and Friday, after the debate in Philadelphia Wednesday night.
The resources both sides are throwing at one another are unprecedented.
On its own, Mrs. Clinton's Pennsylvania spending might well have set a record for a presidential primary in the state, except that the Obama campaign is outspending her by a margin estimated at between two and three to one.
Most of that has gone to television advertising, but the campaigns also spent lavishly in areas such as mailings.
During a whistle-stop campaign yesterday in Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama cast his rival as a game-player who uses "slash and burn" tactics and will say what people want to hear. Mrs. Clinton implored voters to look beyond "whoop dee do" speechmaking and take a hard look at who's got the know-how to deal with the nation's burdens.
The consensus of recent polling in Pennsylvania is consistent with the new Post-Gazette survey in finding a race in which a Clinton lead once in double digits has narrowed.
But there are outliers among the numerous outside surveys. An outlier is an observation numerically distant from the rest of the data. At least one in the last 10 days showed Mr. Obama in the lead while others describe a much larger lead for Mrs. Clinton. National polls betray similar variations.
This report contains information from the Associated Press.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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