The New York Timesleads with the Food and Drug Administration announcing that contaminated heparin from 12 Chinese companies has been found in 11 countries and is linked to 81 deaths in the United States. But Chinese Embassy officials strongly disputed the claims, saying that the man-made contaminant can't be the real cause of the deaths and suggested the problem may have originated in the United States. USA Todayleads with Pentagon records showing that the Army has increased the use of involuntary extensions to maintain troop levels despite the fact that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year that they should be kept to a minimum. The number of soldiers affected has increased 43 percent since May, to a total of 12,235 in March.
The Washington Postleads with the last day of campaigning before Pennsylvania voters head to the polls today. Sen. Hillary Clinton unveiled a new ad, and Barack Obama's campaign worked hard to manage expectations, saying that the former first lady is clearly the favorite to win their first contest in six weeks. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a look at how the Democratic contenders will each leave Pennsylvania with very different balance sheets. While Clinton is in debt, Obama has more than $40 million available. The Los Angeles Timesleads with new record prices for both oil and gasoline. The average price of gas nationwide passed the $3.50 mark, and the price of crude oil reached $117.48 a barrel. Many predict that it won't be long before gasoline costs more than $4 a gallon in many parts of the country and a barrel of oil reaches $125.
Before the FDA made its announcement about Heparin, the Chinese government began what the WSJ characterizes as a "pushback" against the conclusions. At a press conference, Chinese officials said they want to look into whether the problem was caused in the end stage of the production process. The FDA disputes the Chinese assertion that severe adverse reactions have not been observed in any other countries, although it's unclear whether contaminated heparin is linked to deaths anywhere else.
The NYT and WSJ highlight how this is the latest example of the growing rift between the United States and China over safety issues. Meanwhile, it's becoming clearer just how little oversight there is of imported products. A new government audit says the FDA would have to invest an additional $56 million next year simply to begin full inspections of foreign plants. At the current pace, "the F.D.A. would need at least 27 years to inspect every foreign medical device plant that exports to the United States, 13 years to check every foreign drug plant and 1,900 years to examine every foreign food plant," reports the NYT.
Clinton's new ad invokes images of Pearl Harbor and Osama Bin Laden to question whether Obama is ready to be president. The ad never mentions Obama by name, but the message is clear: "Who do you think has what it takes?" Obama's camp quickly responded with an ad of its own: "Who in times of challenge will unite us—not use fear and calculation to divide us?"
Although Obama has spent almost twice as much on TV ads in Pennsylvania, his campaign is making it clear that he doesn't expect to win today. But, of course, as has been the case during several of these contests, winning isn't only about winning. The LAT says Clinton needs to win by at least 10 percentage points, but the Post notes that some think that as long as she wins by more than five points it would mark "a respectable victory," considering how much money Obama has spent on ads. Democrats agree that the key factor today will be to see whether Obama has been able to make significant gains with blue-collar voters.
In a Page One analysis, the WSJ says there are four groups of voters that "stand out as the key pieces" of the electoral puzzle: "working-class males, young people, rural and small-town Americans and Hispanics." To some degree, all of these groups will be on display in Pennsylvania, which is why today's vote will be critically important for Clinton if she hopes to have any chance of ultimately prevailing against Obama.
One area in which Clinton remains highly vulnerable is money. In a Page One story, the WSJ says her lack of money could be what ultimately kills her chance to keep up with Obama during the next few contests. This lack of money will be particularly felt in Indiana, which votes May 6. Polls show a tight contest, and Obama has said it "may end up being the tiebreaker."
But before the candidates can start thinking about Indiana, there's still the small matter of Pennsylvania. The WSJ says that if by any chance Obama wins today, Clinton "will likely have to drop out." On the flip side, even if Clinton wins by a large margin, she still won't pick up enough delegates to make a significant dent in Obama's lead. But it could lead superdelegates to question Obama's prospects and hold off any more endorsements until the next set of primaries.
Meanwhile, both the WP and NYT point out that it's looking less and less likely that Obama and Clinton will join forces. The prospect was always far-fetched, but as time goes on and tensions continue to rise, some Democratic insiders are convinced that it would simply be a bad idea.
In other news, the WP fronts a look at a new study that says life expectancy for women in nearly 1,000 counties is shorter now than what it was in the 1980s. The women who saw the sharpest drops in their life spans live mainly in the Deep South and Appalachia. Researchers say lung cancer, diabetes, and obesity have contributed to this "distinctly American" trend.
In a blunt piece inside, the WSJ says that the tax cuts Sen. John McCain is vowing to push through as president "would either cause the federal deficit to explode or would require unprecedented spending cuts." He has proposed a total of more than $650 billion in tax cuts a year that would mostly benefit "corporations and upper-income families." Details are scarce, but he has promised deep cuts would equal $160 billion a year, which was "the total budget in 2007 for the departments of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice and State." In other McCain-related news, the LAT points out that when the senator released his tax return last week, he disclosed that he received a tax-exempt $58,358 for what his staff called a "disability pension" from the Navy because of "his limited body movements due to injuries as a POW."
As Democrats continue to fight over who will get a chance to sit in the Oval Office, USAT notes that the current occupant of the White House now has "the highest disapproval rating" that has ever been recorded in the Gallup Poll's 70-year history. In a weekend poll, 69 percent said they disapprove of President Bush.
In an apparent attempt to boost his numbers using his old standby charm and self-deprecating attitude, Bush made an appearance on a popular NBC show yesterday. "I'm thrilled to be on Deal or No Deal with you tonight," Bush said. "Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days."