Micek: Hillary Clinton needs Pennsylvania
PHILADELPHIA – It has to be a weird time to be Hillary Clinton.
When the former Secretary of State announced her White House run back in the spring of 2015, a lot of Democrats weren't questioning whether she'd win the party's nomination, but, rather, by how much.
A year on from that announcement last April, Clinton is still well ahead in the critical race for delegates. But as she rolled into the Sheraton Hotel in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, that air of inevitability had been dented more than a little bit.
After her loss in Wisconsin, Clinton had to be relieved to be back on friendly turf, in a state she carried in her 2008 White House run, speaking to the annual convention of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which is already in her corner.
And it showed.
Exercising the standard candidate's prerogative to run 30 minutes late, an energized, if a little hoarse, Clinton hit the stage to cheers. And she hit a pandering three-pointer in less than two minutes.
She threw a shout-out to the NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats, who actually play Philadelphia suburbs, but will nonetheless be celebrated with a victory parade in downtown Philadelphia on Friday.
"I just love those come from behind victories," she said, glossing over, or perhaps unaware, of the fact that 'Nova led for the entire second half.
In a half-hour speech, Clinton drew distinctions between herself and Sanders and the Republican contenders.
She and Sanders share similar goals, but "like a lot of people I am concerned they won't work because the numbers don't add up," she said.
And without mentioning Republican front-runner Donald Trump by name, Clinton said the billionaire mogul needs to "get out of one of those towers named for himself and start talking to people working all over."
Clinton directly slapped Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for his support for a national "right to work" law that would bar mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. No shock — that one went down well with a labor audience.
"Republicans are waging a war against workers," Clinton said, adding that "labor would always have a voice" and a "seat at the table" if she is elected.
Though Clinton and Sanders must still face each other in New York on April 19, Pennsylvania still remains integral to their White House hopes. No candidate has won election without carrying the Keystone State. And Pennsylvania has remained reliably blue since 1988.
And at the moment, it's advantage Clinton.
A Harper poll released this week showed Clinton leading Sanders by 22 percentage points (55-33 percent), with 12 percent undecided, ahead of the state's April 26 primary. But a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday gave Clinton a narrower, 6-point lead, 50-44 percent over Sanders.
Regardless, Clinton's labor loyalists, who will play an integral role in the primary campaign here, remain confident of a victory.
"It doesn't matter," U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the powerful head of Philadelphia's Democratic City Committee, predicted. "I think she's going to win no matter what."
Union activists in Philadelphia said they planned to support Sanders if he wins the nomination during this summer's Democratic National Convention, which will be convened in Philadelphia in July.
But some, including David Fillman, president of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state workers, said they worried about Sanders' supporters staying onside if he loses the nomination.
Some of the Vermont senator's most fervent fans have said they'll write in his name in November before they vote for Clinton.
"He's keeping his money and not really doing any down-ballot stuff," Fillman said of Sanders.
That includes Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, who's in Democrats' crosshairs. His is one of five seats that could tip control of the Senate.
Recognizing that, Clinton appealed to labor, saying she'd work hard, but wouldn't get across the finish line without their support.
The Rev. Robert Shine, pastor of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhood, wasn't worried.
"She's becoming what she always was — president," he said.
But first, the primary.
John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.