STATE COLLEGE, Pa.- If the numbers are to be believed, the rallying chants of "Yes, we can!" echoing across Pennsylvania State University's campus on a recent Sunday afternoon may be more than just rhetoric for Barack Obama. Weeks of his hard campaigning, growing superdelegate support, and surge in fundraising appear to have chipped away at Hillary Clinton's comfortable lead in the Pennsylvania polls and thrown her presumptive victory April 22 into doubt.
For Obama to pull off the upset, he will need the help of voters like Don King, a 64-year-old retired teacher from Montoursville, Pa. King, a lifelong "Eisenhower-type" Republican, his wife, and his son-in-law are a few of a record number of voters who switched parties.
As he and his family waited for the Penn State rally to begin, King told WORLD that despite his longtime allegiance to the Republican Party, he could no longer support its "radical right wing" ideology. He believes Obama is the most promising candidate to emerge in years.
"I really think he believes in the Golden Rule," he said. "If the right person would have come along, I would have switched before."
King joined his daughter-in-law, Sue King, a 36-year-old mother of two, who is a social worker in Montoursville. As she kept a sharp eye on her kids, she told WORLD she supports Obama because of his history of community work and activism in Chicago.
"I've always liked Hillary, but I see her as being divisive," she said.
Obama also needs the support of voters like Patty and Mike Calkins of Johnsonburg, Pa. The couple arrived a couple of hours before the rally to wait for the gates to open.
Patty, a 50-year-old business manager for Johnsonburg area schools and first-time campaign donor, said Obama has the best "vision for change." Mike, 52, has been a machinist for 30 years and supports Obama's clean coal platform.
"I think he's going to be the next president," Patty told WORLD.
Obama may have won over King and the Calkinses, but other voting blocs, like the state's population of 3.8 million Catholics, mostly pro-life voters, are still up for grabs. Despite Clinton's support among such voters, both candidates continue to aggressively court their votes.
In a state that has traditionally supported pro-life Democratic candidates, abortion appears to have taken a backseat to concerns about the economy and the war in Iraq. That may be largely because Clinton and Obama are virtually indistinguishable on the abortion issue, said Charlene Bashore, legislative and political action committee director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, an affiliate of National Right to Life.
"Many pro-life Democrats in Pennsylvania will grit their teeth when voting for president this primary election, given the choices on the ballot," Bashore told WORLD.
Both Obama and Clinton are sponsors of the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that will "essentially eradicate" Pennsylvania's longstanding Abortion Control Act, which requires parental consent for minors and informed consent for women prior to abortion, Bashore added.
Ironically, the legislation was backed by the late Democratic Gov. Bob Casey Sr. His son, Sen. Bob Casey Jr., has endorsed Obama, a move that further muddies the political waters for pro-life Democrats.
"Sen. Casey's endorsement of Obama is puzzling," Bashore said. "I think most people will be more confused than influenced by it."
Despite the unattractive choice either Democrat presidential candidate presents, Bashore hopes that does not keep voters away from the polls: The state ballots feature a number of pro-life Democratic candidates.
Clinton, who has performed well among traditional Catholic voters in previous primaries, will also be counting on voter participation, if she has any hope of holding off Obama's surging appeal in the Keystone State.