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Polls open for Pennsylvania primary   (PA)

The Morning Call   22 April 2008

With six weeks of roadwork behind contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the fight bell rang for the Pennsylvania primary at 7 a.m. By then, a long line of voters was streaming outside Bethlehem's Edgeboro School polling place, one of the city's largest, known for its consistently high turnout.

When judge of elections Craig Hynes swung open the doors, 15 people rushed in, including some that had been their since 6:40 a.m.

"It's normally a busy poll, but this already feels like a general [election]," Hynes said. "This is going to be a long day."

Moments later he realized how long it could be when one of his three voting machines malfunctioned. After four people had voted, he realized that it had only registered one voter. He had to reset machine.

 "We lost three voters and there's no getting them back," explains Hynes, "and at this point we don't even know who they were."

After monitoring it, it functioned properly.

In Allentown, about a dozen people were at the B'nai B'rith House at 16th and Liberty streets around 7:15 a.m. to cast their ballots.

Laurel Fedak, a judge of elections, said the opening turnout reflected "a pretty typical morning."

The polling site is usually a busy spot, she said, because of seniors residing at the B'nai B'rith House, Gross Towers and the Liberty Nursing Home.

"So we have a captive audience, and they vote all day long," Fedak said.

Among people casting their ballots during the first hour was Leonard Hayes, 50, a hospital courier, a longtime Democrat and an Obama supporter.

He said he made up his mind awhile ago to support Obama instead of Clinton.

"I think he's more of a people person ... and everything he has stated has been true," Hayes said of Obama.

He said he thought Clinton was a little too negative and criticized her for trying to capitalize on some Obama statements, including his controversial comments that small-town Pennsylvanians are bitter and cling to guns and religion.

Also among the first voters at the B'nai B'rith House were Bill and Beatrice Hall, both Republicans. They said they cast their ballots for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.

"I really feel very passionate about getting involved in politics, at least reading about it and listening," Beatrice Hall said. "I think sitting back and just letting someone else do it isn't going to solve the problem."

Beatrice Hall, 71, sells Avon Products, while her husband, 76, is retired.

Clinton and Obama have been battling it out in Pennsylvania for six weeks, each hoping to gain the majority of the state's 158 delegates to the Democratic convention.

Clinton began with a lead of nearly 20 points following her victories in the March 4 Ohio and Texas Democratic primaries.

But Obama has gradually closed that lead to within about 5 to 7 points in the most recent polls. In recent days, both campaigns have gone on the attack with Clinton questioning Obama's toughness and Obama hitting Clinton over her health care plan and for resorting to negative attacks.

Political observers say it would be hard for either candidate to score a knockout blow in Pennsylvania, the last large state to hold a Democratic primary. Neither is likely to pick up enough delegates to put the race out of reach.

Clinton is looking win by a wide enough margin to demonstrate to super delegates, whose votes may decide the nomination, that her campaign has momentum.

Obama will be looking to hold the margin down enough to slow Clinton's momentum, or by winning the state deal Clinton a serious setback and up the pressure on her to leave the race.

Next up for both campaigns: North Carolina and Indiana, which hold their primaries on May 6.

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