Salena Zito

The road to the White House could run through Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell says.

But this is an election about which no one should make any assumptions, Rendell told the Tribune-Review in a telephone interview Wednesday.

After voters in 24 states cast ballots Tuesday, Sen. John McCain of Arizona tightened his grip on the Republican nomination. But matters were hardly settled on the Democratic side, where Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois ended Super Tuesday in a virtual tie.

"Finally, we matter," said an excited Mary Isenhour, the state Democratic Party executive director.

Unlike some states, Pennsylvania did not move its primary to Tuesday and, for the first time in more than 30 years, the delegate choices Democratic voters make April 22 indeed might matter. Pennsylvania will have 188 Democratic delegates and 74 GOP delegates on the ballot.

"Pennsylvania really could still be a big part of the decision-making process," said Rendell, a super-delegate to the August national convention in Denver who has pledged his support to Clinton. "While there still are a lot of delegates and a lot of victories to be won before our primary, it is looking more and more like the road to victory comes through Pennsylvania."

Even his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, a McCain supporter, believes the state might be in play.

"It is conceivable that you get into April and no nominee has a requisite delegate count and all of a sudden, even though Pennsylvania did not move its primary up, it becomes relevant to the outcome," Ridge said. "All eyes are on Pennsylvania -- not a bad thing from my point of view, and I suspect Gov. Rendell doesn’t see it as a bad idea either."

The possibility excites others in the state -- tourism officials and managers of hotels that host political events, for example -- who could benefit from a primary that attracts national attention.

Bob Bee, director of sales for WTAE-TV, said Pennsylvania would be a target for Democrats' advertisements and perhaps political action campaign ads, especially if the Texas and Ohio primaries are not conclusive.

"Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!" Bee said. "God bless democracy!"

As a former national party chairman, Rendell acknowledged that securing a win for Clinton in Pennsylvania is becoming increasingly important for him.

"Leading up to Pennsylvania there are some excellent potential states for Sen. Obama -- Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia -- and some toss-ups like Washington and Wisconsin," he said. But he thinks Clinton might fare well in Louisiana on Saturday and in Texas and Ohio on March 4.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.