Ready, Set, Wait!: The Six-Week Slog to Pennsylvania

By Christopher Beam and Chadwick Matlin

Obama won. You can stop holding your breath now. Indeed, his victory in Mississippi added yet another notch to his belt, and with that we can begin the long slog to the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. (There’s a reason the phrase “death march” contains the word March .) Here’s what we can expect to see in the weeks to come.

Elephants in the room. Details should soon begin to emerge about revotes in Florida and Michigan. The main questions: Will the DNC reinstate the states’ full delegations? Or will the party continue to punish them by withholding their delegates? (The RNC stripped the states of half their delegates.) When will the votes be? (Expect late June, making Florida and Michigan the new Texas and Ohio, which were in turn the new Iowa and New Hampshire.) Do revotes favor one candidate, in particular? (They’re partial to Clinton. Polling in Michigan shows a tied race , and she’s up big in Florida .) Can Clinton catch up in the delegate count if she dominates these contests? (Probably not, but she could make the pledged delegate margin so narrow—as low as 80, perhaps—that superdelegates would have an even harder decision.)

Getting intimate. We’re going to get to know Pennsylvania like it’s our college girlfriend. We’ll grow acquainted with her baggage from past relationships—electing Gov. Ed Rendell over Pittsburgh sports-legend Lynn Swann, perhaps because some were uncomfortable with an African-American governor. We’ll get to know her friends from home—cosmopolitan transplants in Philadelphia, steel-belt workers in Pittsburgh, and wacky, independent farmers everywhere in between. Plus, don’t forget about getting inside her head—nothing’s sexier than probing her feelings on NAFTA, change, and experience.

Surrogate smack talk. The past week has featured a colorful cast of loose-lipped economists , feisty former candidates , leggy academes with attitude , and other surrogates gone wild. Don’t expect that to stop. As the Democratic race drags on, everyone will become sensitive about damaging (or, worse, appearing to damage) the eventual nominee—especially now that McCain can gad about unchallenged. As a result, underlings will hurl the most hurtful barbs, lest the candidates themselves look nasty. By the end of this, monster will sound kind.

Debate # 21. Remember that a Pennsylvania debate in Philadelphia was one of the most newsworthy forums of the season. It’s where Clinton wavered on drivers’ licenses for immigrants , which may or may not have been her first major slip that eventually caused her to lose Iowa and ultimately forced her descent into delegate denial. But Clinton always loves sidling up to Obama under the debate lights, so look for another gabfest sometime before April 22. In the midst of six (relatively) newsless weeks, there may actually be some content to come out of this one.

Foreign policy posturing. Now that the race is guaranteed to come down to superdelegates, the candidates will sell themselves harder than ever as the anti-McCain. That means foreign policy cred. This week, both candidates held photo-ops with panels of military men. McCain has already scheduled a trip next to Europe and the Middle East, including a stop in Iraq. Will the Dems duck out of Quaker country for a swing through the fertile crescent? At the very least, expect to hear more about Clinton’s role in healing Northern Island, Obama’s trips to Africa, and, of course, Sinbad .