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Democratic Candidates to Debate Before Crucial Primary

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are preparing to face-off in a nationally televised debate Wednesday evening in Pennsylvania, just days ahead of the critical Democratic primary in that state. As VOA correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington, the debate is likely to draw a large audience.

Senator Hillary Clinton is favored to win in Pennsylvania, and will need the victory to try to create political momentum for the rest of the primaries into early June. Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia explains.

Larry Sabato: "Pennsylvania will determine whether Hillary Clinton can actually finish the primary season. If she loses, or even if it is a squeaker [EDS: very close race], I think she is probably out. If however, she finishes 53-47, 54-46 or better, she is in. She will be in (the race) through June 3rd, and Obama will have to deal with that."

Larry Sabato says the pollsters and other experts he knows in Pennsylvania believe Clinton has a lead of between four and seven percentage points ahead of next Tuesday's primary and is likely to win.

Larry Sabato: "The demographics of the state favor her. It is an older state, it is a working-class Democrat state. Plus Governor Ed Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia have really put their own political reputations at stake here by backing her so strongly. They can't afford to have Obama win, it will damage their political futures."

Senator Obama has been on the defensive this week over comments he made describing small town voters as "bitter" over their economic circumstances. His Democratic rival Senator Clinton and Republican candidate Senator John McCain have both called the remarks "elitist."

On Tuesday, Senator Obama was campaigning in Pennsylvania when a voter suggested Senator Clinton's "elitist" accusation may have racial overtones.

Barack Obama: "Let me say this. I don't think there are racial overtones to the attacks going on right now. I think that, you know, it's politics. This is what we do politically, when we start getting behind in races then we start going on the attack."

Senator Obama is hoping for a close finish in Pennsylvania to maintain his lead in the number of delegates needed to win the nomination, and to protect his frontrunner status going into early May primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.