The general election bout has begun with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain sparring with each other, ignoring Hillary Clinton's efforts to stay in the ring with them.
The clearest indication that the election is moving into a new phase this week is that Obama and McCain are both campaigning in key November swing states, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.
They are also attacking each other, while Clinton doesn't even rate a mention.
Obama Blasts McCain-Bush Connection
Obama noted Tuesday night that McCain held a fundraiser with President Bush. The press was not permitted to film McCain with the unpopular president, a man Republicans describe as so toxic you'd expect to see McCain in a Hazmat suit for their one photo op at the airport.
"No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why," Obama said of the fundraiser, going on to depict Bush almost as if he were McCain's running mate. "Sen. McCain doesn't want to be seen, hat in hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years."
And McCain is keeping up his theme that Obama is inexperienced and naive when it comes to foreign policy.
"Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president sit down with leaders in Pyongyang [North Korea] and Tehran [Iran], as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past few decades," McCain said.
Clinton Continues Primary Fight
While Obama and McCain circle each other and throw their first tentative jabs, Clinton is still stumping in the final three Democratic primaries and arguing that she would be a stronger candidate against McCain.
"Based on every analysis of every bit of research, and every poll that's been taken and every state that a Democrat has to win, I am the stronger candidate against John McCain in the fall," she argued Tuesday night in Billings, Mont.
Clinton backer James Carville told "Good Morning America" today that he agreed that Clinton has the stats to indicate she has better poll numbers in running against McCain than Obama does in key states.
He also conceded, however, that he believes Obama would also defeat McCain.
"Any fair reading of the current polls would say Sen. Clinton would win by more," Carville said.
Clinton is expected to win Puerto Rico's primary this Sunday, while Obama is favored in the last two contests in South Dakota and Montana June 3.
And despite a campaign debt of more than $20 million, Clinton is still buying air time for ads like the one that is now airing and promises, "I will get us back to fiscal responsibility."
Beginning of the End?
Top Democrats and analysts have predicted that the campaign will end within days of the June 3 primaries when superdelegates end their silence and endorse Obama, who has an insurmountable lead in delegates.
But Carville said that when the primaries are concluded Clinton will "likely" be able to make the argument that she has won more popular votes than Obama, although Carville didn't say whether that would include the disputed votes in Florida and Michigan.
"I sure do think her case, if she has more popular votes, will be stronger," Carville said.
Clinton suffered another setback Tuesday when lawyers for the Democrats' Rules Committee concluded in a 38-page memo that they cannot legally install all the Florida and Michigan delegations. Those two states were penalized for violating the party's rules and holding early primaries.
Clinton won both states, although neither candidate campaigned there, and she was hoping to bolster her delegate count by having the full delegations seated.
The rules committee is scheduled to meet this weekend to resolve the fate of those two delegations.