Bill Steigerwald

With fresh polls showing Hillary Clinton’s huge lead over Barack Obama shrinking in the Pennsylvania primary, it was time to pick the politically savvy brain of Pittsburgh native Howard Fineman. The veteran Newsweek senior political correspondent/columnist and NBC analyst happened to be in New York City when I talked to him by telephone April 3. But he's been busy studying Pennsylvania's latest poll results, talking to party insiders in Pittsburgh and Philly and interviewing likely Democrat voters:

Q: With Obama making up so much ground here, is the Democrats' primary effectively over for Hillary Clinton?

A: The chances are dwindling. I wouldn’t say they are over. Especially in politics, you are always reluctant to say “never” and to write a full conclusion on things. But it’s fading rapidly unless she can pull off a big victory in Pennsylvania -- and the “big” part of it is looking less likely.

Q: New polls today show Obama actually leading. Do you have a sense of what’s happening?

A: First of all, Obama is on the air -- both paid and free -- more than Hillary is. Certainly in terms of paid media, the estimates are he’s outspending her 4-to-1 in ads. But he’s also getting a tremendous amount of coverage and a lot of it is very positive coverage, now that the Jeremiah Wright thing -- perhaps temporarily -- is pretty much behind him. He’s in there smiling and ... even though he was bowling gutter balls, at least he was bowling. That kind of stuff is helping.

The other thing is I think the Democrats -- and even Democrat voters out there who are not strategists or superdelegates, but just voters -- may be beginning to worry about the length of the campaign, may be beginning to worry about the attacks back and forth. In Pennsylvania, the voters have the privilege -- if they want to -- of making the final decision: Do you want the thing to end now, or do you want it to go on? It’s ironic but Pennsylvania has that role in this campaign; Pennsylvania voters could be the bookends for Iowa and New Hampshire.

Q: Is there anything Hillary can do on the ground or with her message?

A: Well, it’s pretty hard at this point. She’s spent a lot of time in recent weeks saying both publicly -- and her aides saying privately -- why Obama can’t win, why people shouldn’t vote for Obama, as much as she herself has said why she is the better choice. She is making her case out there. She’s talking about economic matters, and she’s talking about them with a great deal of knowledge and maybe even convincingly. But I’m not sure there is enough difference between what she is saying and what Obama is saying, whether it’s on the economy or foreign policy, to make that much of a difference.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..