WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Women helped Sen. Hillary Clinton knock out another must-win victory Tuesday night in Pennsylvania’s presidential primary, giving her enough political–if not financial–fuel to keep her campaign running through the remaining nine Democratic contests through June 3.

Clinton was beating Sen. Barack Obama 55 percent to 45 percent with 94 percent of the vote counted, according to CNN.

“We all knew Pennsylvania was either going to be the semi-finals or the finals of the game,” said Gloria Feldt, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York and a vocal Clinton supporter. “So the game goes on.”

Clinton carried 54 percent of female voters while Obama got 46 percent of women, according to CNN.

Most White Women Voted for Clinton

White women went particularly strong for Clinton, with 64 percent backing Clinton and 36 percent for Obama.

“White women voted for Hillary Clinton and they voted for her by a pretty solid margin,” said CNN political analyst Bill Schneider.

Women went to the polls in much higher numbers than men, according to CNN exit polls. Nearly 60 percent of the electorate was female, 41 percent male.

Women flocked to Clinton out of a desire to support a female presidential candidate and because they responded to her populist economic message, according Ellie Smeal, a prominent Clinton supporter and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va.

Overall, women earn less than men, in part because of disparities in pay. In 2006, U.S. women earned 76.9 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the Census Bureau.

“Some of it is gender identity and some of it is admiring her on other grounds,” said Ellen Bravo, an Obama supporter who is former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, an advocacy group in Milwaukee. “Some of it may also be race. I don’t think it’s so simple.”

A female backlash against gender bias in the media also drove women to Clinton, Smeal said. “The women are so angry over the treatment of Clinton and are feeling it has been just abysmal and that it has been so sexist.”

Clinton also had considerable help from EMILY’s List, the Washington-based political action committee that backs pro-choice Democratic women. The group reached 150,000 voters in southeastern Pennsylvania with mailings and phone messages promoting Clinton’s ability to handle the faltering economy.

Similar efforts helped Clinton win come-back victories in states such as New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas.

For his part, Obama drew heavy female support from African American, young and anti-war women.

Senate to Vote on Equal Pay Bill

The election coincided with Equal Pay Day–an annual opportunity since 1996 to highlight the gender wage gap–and preceded by one day a critical vote in the Senate on legislation that would reverse last year’s Supreme Court decision making it more difficult for victims of wage discrimination to win lawsuits.

“In almost 10 million households, mothers are the only breadwinners,” Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Think of how much better off families would be if women were paid a wage equal to men, especially as our economic downturn grows worse, and everyday expenses rise.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a procedural motion allowing the bill to proceed to a floor vote.

Prospects are unclear, said Jocelyn Frye, general counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “I think it will be a close vote, but we’re hopeful that the senators will support at least being able to make sure the measure gets a full hearing,” she said.

The Democrat-controlled House passed a similar version of the bill last July, with representatives voting largely along party lines.

But even if the bill does clear Congress, it faces a veto from President Bush, who said in a statement after the House vote that it would lead to excessive litigation.

Both Clinton and Obama support the legislation and have campaigned for equal pay.

Clinton Still Behind in Delegate Count

Despite her victory Tuesday, Clinton faces low odds of winning a majority of “pledged” delegates, those committed to backing a candidate based on the outcome of primaries and caucuses.

Heading into Pennsylvania’s primary, Obama led Clinton 1,450 to 1,218 in pledged delegates. With Tuesday’s win, she’ll get a majority of Pennsylvania’s 158 pledged delegates, but not enough to overtake Obama.

As a result, she is now widely assumed to be basing her long-shot hopes on securing a strong majority of superdelegates–those free to back the candidate of their choice regardless of the outcomes of state nominating contests–so she can reach the 2,024-delegate total needed to clinch her party’s nomination.

Even if she recruits a majority of uncommitted superdelegates, Clinton will likely need superdelegates from the states of Michigan and Florida, which have been disqualified because their state parties violated national party rules when scheduling their primaries. It is unclear whether delegates from those two states will be able to vote at the national convention.

“I admire Clinton’s refusal to give up,” Bravo said. On the other hand I don’t admire her refusal to play by the rules in Florida and Michigan. . . We all have to agree there’s only one goal and that’s to defeat McCain. And anything her campaign does to provide fodder for McCain I think is very worrisome.”

But Clinton backers see a ray of hope in Tuesday’s victory because it signals her electoral strength in large battleground states key to victory in the general election. If superdelegates perceive a trend toward Clinton, they may change allegiances in her favor, Feldt said. “I definitely think it gives her the justification to go forward.”

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.

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