By Msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/6/2008 1:52:34 PM ET 2008-04-06T17:52:34

In anticipation of the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama dispatched influential state surrogates to Sunday’s “Meet the Press” to persuade host Tim Russert and voters that the increasingly bitter, costly and unending primary battle is in the best interest of voters.

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Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell continued his ongoing pitch that Clinton is the candidate more able to take on presumed Republican nominee John McCain despite her status behind Obama in delegates, contests won and popular vote.  Positioning Clinton as the underdog in Pennsylvania, Rendell tried to downplay recent predictions that she is on the road to a double-digit victory in the state and even said he believed Obama could win the primary.  Conceding that Clinton enjoys “great advantages” of popularity in the state, he cautioned that because she was being outspent three to one, a win by a margin of five to 10 percentage points would be “an impressive victory.”

Russert called Rendell out on a number of issues that the Clinton campaign has attempted to parse to its advantage in the past weeks, most recently the release Friday of the Clintons’ eyebrow-raising $109 million joint income since President Bill Clinton left office seven years ago.  Calling the tax and charitable fallout of their earnings a demonstration of their “commitment to the public good,” Rendell said that the average Pennsylvania voter (who earns $46,000 a year) would realize that the Clintons’ generous distribution of their wealth over the years is “what counts.”  Russert homed in on the potential conflict of the approximately $29 million of their income that is made up of private partnerships, but Rendell suggested that that portion was mitigated by the small percentage it accounted for in their overall earnings.

Russert pressed Rendell on the undisclosed donors who have given unlimited and unregulated sums totaling $500 million for the former president’s library and foundation since he left office.  Rendell dismissed the possibility that the money could curry favor or be used for “nefarious purpose” in a potential future Clinton administration, and said the decision to reveal donors was solely President Clinton’s prerogative.

For his part, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., explained that his recent decision to ally himself with the Obama campaign came down to the fact that he has “never been more inspired by a candidate in my life.”  Asked if there were any connection between his recent commitment to the Obama campaign and his own political interests in securing the college students, African Americans, and upper-income voters who have flocked to the Obama message, Casey praised Obama’s leadership as the future of the Democratic Party.  Calling Obama’s foray into the issue of race in America “a leadership test and he got an A-plus,” Casey spoke glowingly of Obama’s potential to lead “a divided country in a dangerous world.” 

In practical terms, Casey reiterated the campaign’s message that as the leader in votes, states won and delegates, Obama would be the inevitable nominee, with the Pennsylvania race all but lost but nonetheless an opportunity to lay groundwork for the November election.  Challenged on the notion that Obama was free of special-nterest obligations due to his success at raising money from small donors, Casey conceded that Obama has taken money from state lobbyists and corporate donors, but pointed to Clinton’s fundraising efforts as “old-fashioned” and more compromised.  Rendell called such claims of financial independence for Obama "disingenuous.”

The back-room numbers game behind the delegate counts came into play as both Rendell and Casey sought to make their campaigns’ arcane tabulations seem like simple math. To Russert’s apparent disbelief, Rendell asserted that it was a logical conclusion not to seat Michigan’s delegates at the convention, while at the same time counting the state's popular votes, which fall in Clinton’s favor, thanks to Obama's not being named on the Michigan ballot.  “The hardest candidate to run against is yourself,” Rendell claimed, staking out Clinton’s win there as both official and unofficial.

Casey listened politely to Rendell list how the remaining states (and Puerto Rico) would have to fall to ensure a scenario where the superdelegates would have to see Clinton as the stronger candidate against McCain, and therefore defy popular vote and elected delegate totals to make her the party’s nominee.  “Superdelegates — elected officials — won’t decide this,” Casey countered simply, as if anything in this tight race were so easy to conclude.  “The people have been deciding this, and they will.”

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