The Note: Enter Sandman

Welcome to the longest three weeks of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's political existence (which also happen to be the shortest three weeks of her political career).

Big Mo was slow coming out of the gate, but he's a good closer -- and Clinton is about to learn whether he can find you even if you flee to Texas and Ohio. This could get ugly: We will now see just how much Camp Clinton wants this thing (as measured by what the candidate and her retooled campaign will do to try to shake things up).

By any objective measure, Sen. Barack Obama is now the Democratic frontrunner: money, momentum, enthusiasm, and now delegates, too. Three contests on Tuesday resulted in three drubbings, with Obama, D-Ill., providing dramatic answers to just about every question that lingered about his candidacy.


"Obama had his most impressive night of the competition, not just in the size of his victory margins but in the breadth of support he attracted from men and women, young voters and old, African Americans and whites," Dan Balz and Tim Craig write in The Washington Post.

"The results left Clinton, the one-time front-runner for the Democratic nomination, in a deep hole. . . . Obama's winning streak, his large margins and the prospect of more victories next week put Clinton in a tenuous position, despite the close delegate competition."

Momentum, we have found thee (though we know we've thought that before): Since Super Tuesday, Obama is 8-0, headed for a 10-0 run -- and the races haven't even been close.

That's what makes the march to March 4 both a painfully long and a woefully short window for Clinton, D-N.Y.; if the campaign has been holding onto some delicious nugget of oppo-research, or a foolproof line of attack against a candidate who still is untested, this is their cue.

"The lopsided nature of Senator Barack Obama's parade of victories on Tuesday gives him an opening to make the case that Democratic voters have broken in his favor and that the party should coalesce around his candidacy," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"The sheer consistency of Mr. Obama's victories over the last few days certainly suggests that many Democratic voters have gotten past whatever reservations they might have had about his electability or his qualifications to be president."

Obama now has a 27-delegate edge over Clinton, overcoming the big gap she continues to enjoy (but may not be able to count on all that much longer) among superdelegates, according to ABC's delegate scorecard.

It is Obama's cue to keep rolling. Now those calls to superdelegates just might be persuasive (and more of them are set to roll out, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet) and the smart money folks will begin hedging their bets.

His speech Wednesday morning in Wisconsin will be the start of his effort to pulverize the remaining bulkheads of Clinton support -- as well as a signal that he won't just be playing defense on his way to the nomination. He plans to speak on economic policy at a General Motors plant in Janesville, taking on both of his opponents at once while tweaking Clinton on trade and the Iraq war:

"It's a Washington where politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should've never been authorized and never been waged -- a war that is costing us thousands of precious lives and billions of dollars a week that could've been used to rebuild crumbling schools and bridges; roads and buildings; that could've been invested in job training and child care; in making health care affordable or putting college within reach," Obama plans to say, per his campaign.

The vote breakdown shows virtually no Obama weak spots. "He really cracked the Clinton coalition," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. "If he gets these kind of numbers in Texas and Ohio, he will be the nominee."

"Obama won white men in Maryland and Virginia alike. He won 84 and 90 percent of blacks," ABC's Gary Langer writes in his dissection of the exit polls. "Obama narrowly won the few Hispanic voters in Virginia; he'd won Hispanics just once before, in Connecticut. Obama's overall vote margins in the two states were his widest, outside his home state of Illinois, in any primary where fewer than four in 10 voters were African-Americans. He won women in both states, something he's done outside states with larger black turnout only in Delaware, Iowa and his home state of Illinois. Indeed, in Virginia, Clinton won white women by a scant 6-point margin; he won them by 18 points in Maryland."

And yet . . . recall that Obama has had two knockout opportunities already in this race -- one in New Hampshire, and another on Super Tuesday -- and didn't close the deal. There are plenty of reasons to think that Obama is stronger than he was even just a week ago, but if you think the Clintons will go quietly, you don't remember your history.

AP's Ron Fournier cites two senior Clinton advisers talking about the fast-diminishing menu of options: "the campaign feels the New York senator needs to quickly change the dynamic by forcing Obama into a poor debate performance, going negative or encouraging the media to attack Obama," he writes. "They're grasping at straws, but the advisers said they can't see any other way that her campaign will be sustainable after losing 10 in a row."

And keep an eye on the superdelegates, Fournier writes: "Top Democrats, including some inside Hillary Clinton's campaign, say many party leaders -- the so-called superdelegates -- won't hesitate to ditch the former New York senator for Barack Obama if her political problems persist. Their loyalty to the first couple is built on shaky ground."

"The percussive effect of eight losses in a row, with two more potential blows next week in Wisconsin and Hawaii, could take a toll on the morale of the Clinton campaign team and her voters," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

"Traditional political analysis, especially in presidential primaries, is that momentum moves the numbers -- that candidates who lose race after race eventually have even their fairly committed supporters taking a second look at their opponents."

Obama's campaign strategy appears to be working: "Though the Clinton campaign insists that Obama's wins are small-bore, Obama kept counting something else -- victories, now eight straight, and delegates," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Tackett.

"By almost any objective measure, he has pulled ahead."

The stakes are these for Clinton: She needs a resounding sweep of both Texas and Ohio. Among her advantages: two more debates; three weeks to direct scrutiny at Obama; a delegate count that will continue to deny anyone the magic number in the foreseeable future; and the knowledge that everything we've always thought we've known about the race has turned out to be terribly wrong at every turn.

Clinton is (as much as is possible) recasting herself as the scrappy challenger -- a role dictated by circumstance, but a role Clintons seem to enjoy. Her Tuesday night speech and its very venue -- El Paso, Texas -- told the story of her race from here: Her eyes are on Texas and Ohio, and she needs Latino voters to come through for her.

"Lone Star Latinos, Buckeye endorsements and women -- these are three factors that must come through for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to reclaim the Democratic Party's presidential nomination that once appeared hers," Christine Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times.

"I'm the underdog," Clinton told a Wisconsin interviewer on Tuesday. That cuts several ways: "The campaign now confronts naysaying 'national media chatter' and 'nervous supporters,' " a Clinton adviser tells Newsweek's Arian Campo-Flores.

Who wants that tag, anyway? "Barack Obama might keep calling himself the underdog. But from now on, that dog won't hunt," Paul West writes in the Baltimore Sun.

"His smashing victories in three Mid-Atlantic primaries Tuesday will likely be seen as a turning point in the 2008 presidential contest."

The Clinton campaign shake-up that now claims deputy campaign manager Mike Henry in addition to Patti Solis Doyle give the impression, at least, of a campaign that's moving in a new direction. (But it may be worth pondering -- how would this election have been different if Clinton had taken Henry's advice and skipped Iowa?)

No looking back for Clinton -- not even a mention of the three jurisdictions that voted on Tuesday, or a word of congratulations for Obama. "Senator Hillary Clinton is moving on. Big Time," ABC's Kate Snow and Eloise Harper report.

"With one of the biggest crowds she's seen in weeks, Clinton arrived at the University of Texas El Paso Don Haskins Arena with an entrance fitting for a rock star."

A telling line from The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut: "Clinton has made a habit of ignoring contests she loses."

Here's one potential game-changer: Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is at least considering a Clinton endorsement -- those not-so-nice things he said about her notwithstanding. "Though he sometimes aligned himself with Obama -- and against Clinton -- as a candidate, several Edwards campaign insider say Edwards began to sour on Obama toward the end of his own campaign, and ultimately left the race questioning whether Obama had the toughness needed to prevail in a presidential race," per ABC News.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., offered the line of the night, in the last words spoken by any of the candidates Tuesday night: "My friends, I promise you, I am fired up and ready to go."

Yes, Obama heard that, and he's looking forward to the general election as well, thank you very much.

But nothing's been easy for McCain this election cycle, so why should it start on a night that he, too, enjoyed a clean sweep? Somebody STILL hasn't told former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., that this thing isn't over.

"John McCain won the Republican primaries, but many conservatives continued to protest the party's presumptive nominee by voting for his remaining rival," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"The closeness of the outcome in Virginia was a worrisome sign for the party's November prospects. . . . The fact that Sen. McCain continues to do poorly with [conservative] voters, after he effectively wrapped up the nomination last week on Super Tuesday, is a sign of weakness that underscores how divided the party is over its likely standard-bearer."

"For John McCain, Mike Huckabee is a symbol of a problem -- the problem he has shoring up his conservative base," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "For Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama is not symbol, he's the frontrunner, and supporters of hers worry that unless she does something soon to change the dynamic he will become the nominee."

"Despite taking Virginia by ten points and running as the de facto nominee, the Arizona senator lost to Mike Huckabee in county after county in the rural southern and western part of the commonwealth," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

"Behind the scenes, though, McCain's campaign has stopped smiling and tonight offered the closest thing yet to a nudge."

Wrote campaign manager Rick Davis: "[Huckabee] now needs 950 delegates to secure the required 1,191. But in the remaining contests there are only 774 delegates available. He would need to win 123% of remaining delegates."

Huckabee really would have preferred a victory -- any victory (preferably in Virginia) -- out of Tuesday's voting, but he said he's staying in the race, per ABC's Kevin Chupka.

"While it may be mathematically impossible to see how it could play out right now, I know this:  Right now, nobody has the 1,191 delegates," Huckabee said Tuesday night, after the returns rolled in. "And, therefore, it would be a little premature to quit until the game has actually come to a conclusion."

The National Review's Byron York drops a hint that Huckabee may be getting the message: "Inside the Huckabee camp these days, there is a distinct sense of pragmatism about the campaign's prospects. The time is coming -- probably just after the March 4 primary in Texas -- when Huckabee, if he cannot produce any more victories, will leave the Republican presidential race."

McCain can try to scare Huckabee out, or sweet-talk him out, or just flat ignore him. "The Arizona senator is now focused less on Huckabee than on finding common ground with conservatives who have criticized him on subjects ranging from immigration to his temper," USA Today's David Jackson writes.

"McCain, whose outreach efforts began last week with a speech to a conference of conservative activists, is scheduled to meet today with House Republicans. The senator also is to conduct a conference call with bloggers from around the country."

Another Bushie enters the fold: Mercer Reynolds, who broke fundraising records for President Bush in 2004, will serve as McCain's national finance co-chairman. "The development was a major sign that the Republican financial establishment was coalescing around Mr. McCain, who has often been at odds with his own party, particularly conservatives," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.

"It also signaled that Mr. Bush's political apparatus was moving into action for Mr. McCain, a onetime insurgent and competitor to Mr. Bush in 2000 who has had a difficult relationship with the president."

Obama campaigns in Wisconsin on Wednesday, while Clinton is in the Lone Star State and McCain massages the base in Washington, DC. Get details of the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news (if you can pry your attention away from Roger Clemens' appearance on the Hill):

NAACP chairman Julian Bond is weighing in on behalf of Florida and Michigan (and bye extension, for Clinton): Bond wrote to DNC Chairman Howard Dean to express "great concern at the prospect that million of voters in Michigan and Florida could ultimately have their votes completely discounted." Refusing to seat the states' delegations could remind voters of the "sordid history of racially discriminatory primaries," he said, per the AP's Beth Fouhy.

A taste of Wisconsin (hold the cheese): "Analysts here say an Obama win next Tuesday in Wisconsin would be special, precisely because there's nothing special about Wisconsin," Jill Lawrence writes for USA Today.

On second thought, we'll take that cheese. "With three more lopsided victories in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, Democrat Barack Obama arrived in Wisconsin like a February freight train, telling a roaring Kohl Center crowd of more than 17,000 that 'tonight we're on our way,' " Craig Gilbert writes in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

And Camp Clinton would like to turn an expected 0-10 into 1-9. "After sending out mixed signals about its seriousness here, the Clinton campaign took several steps Monday that it said underscored its commitment to the Wisconsin contest," Gilbert writes. "It launched its first TV ads, almost a week after Obama went on the air. It announced that former President Clinton will campaign Thursday in Wisconsin. It announced that Sen. Clinton will be in the state from Saturday night through Tuesday morning, the day of the primary."

But Clinton is looking to Texas, too: "Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off her campaign in Texas with a rally attended by 10,000 enthusiastic supporters, staking her claim to this must-win state and leaving behind eight straight losses to Barack Obama," Christy Hoppe writes in The Dallas Morning News.

"Like William B. Travis, this is her line in the sand. Only this time, she is hoping the Latinos will be on her side."

Clinton and Obama are both running Spanish-language ads in Texas -- but neither one is mentioning immigration, the Morning News' Karen Brooks writes.

Clinton hits Ohio on Thursday -- but she still isn't confirming participation in the Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland, a result of her campaign's spat with MSNBC, Jonathan Riskind reports in the Columbus Dispatch.

The New Republic's Michael Crowley tells the "fairy tale": "Many of the Clintons' specific attacks on Obama are unfair distortions. But it's also true that a close look at his Iraq record reveals more nuance than the Obama campaign acknowledges," he writes. "It shows that Obama is cautious and pragmatic, hardly immune from political pressures, and sometimes prone to shading his rhetoric for convenience. But, ultimately, in substantive policy terms, he is also open to intellectual reexamination based on changing events. This may not be quite the Obama of the popular imagination, and it is certainly not the Obama of his own campaign ads."

Ahem -- attention all incumbents. Two House members lost primaries in Maryland on Tuesday. Per the Baltimore Sun's David Nitkin: "In Maryland's 1st District, which includes the Eastern Shore and stretches northwest through Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties, Republican incumbent Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest lost a vigorous primary challenge to state Sen. Andy Harris. . . . In the 4th District, Rep. Albert R. Wynn lost to challenger Donna Edwards, whom he narrowly defeated two years ago."

The shadow battle (or the battle in the shadows) over superdelegates continues: "Obama's task Tuesday was not only to c Truth is, they won't. arry Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. -- which he did in dominating fashion -- but to win the argument now emerging among the super delegates over whether and how to use their strength," Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times. "And that contest is far from producing a winner."

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., joins the stay-out-of-it chorus: "I would suggest that this is a time that Democratic superdelegates should tread lightly," he writes in a Chicago Tribune op-ed.

"Let's not get in the way of our rising tide. Let's allow grass-roots voters to choose the 2008 presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, not party elites."

Donnie Fowler counters Ari Emanuel by saying not to worry: "My father Don Fowler is a superdelegate. I love my father, and I trust my father. And I gave up letting my father dictate my life since he determined how late I got to stay up at night," Fowler writes for HuffingtonPost. "So, as much as I love and respect him, I don't trust him and his fellow superdelegates to decide for me and the American people who should be the Democratic nominee. Truth is, they won't."

Picking up on an early Obama line of attack, Bloomberg's Matthew Benjamin looks at McCain's record on taxes and spending: "The battle has tested some of his principles. He is campaigning on sweeping new tax reductions, yet the Arizona senator consistently has opposed tax cuts he said were fiscally reckless or tilted toward the rich."

Tony Rezko's lawyers want him out of jail, per the Chicago Tribune.

Rudy Giuliani's woes didn't end with his campaign. ""We are deeper in the hole than I thought we would be," John Gross, the campaign's treasurer, wrote in an e-mail message to several senior campaign aides that was obtained by The New York Times' Michael Cooper. "We cannot prefer any one creditor. We probably could make a 10% payment to all qualified creditors at this point, but probably not much more."

If you think McCain or Clinton have their work cut out for them . . . what about Roger Clemens, as he hits Capitol Hill on Wednesday? "Roger Clemens will be confronted with a new and damaging affidavit from Andy Pettitte when he appears before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday to testify about allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs, two lawyers familiar with the matter said late Tuesday," per The New York Times.

Et tu, Andy? "In the epic battle to defend his reputation, it looks like Roger Clemens has as much to fear from his friend as he does from his foe," ABC's Marcus Baram writes.

The kicker:

"Isn't two Cabinet posts enough?" -- Bill Clinton, to Bill Richardson (per the AP's Ron Fournier), incredulous that his wife has not received Richardson's endorsement.

"There's a greater chance that I would dye my hair green and get tattoos all over my body and do a rock tour with Amy Winehouse than there is that I would run for the Senate." -- Mike Huckabee, speaking rather definitively.

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