Voters in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday could send Sen. Barack Obama's winning streak to 10 contests, as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton scrambles to slow Obama's momentum in their increasingly bitter contest for the Democratic nomination.
But the storyline of Obama's march to the nomination gets a late revision (authorship unknown). The Clinton campaign didn't write off Wisconsin after all, and no arguments over superdelegates, debates, or even plagiarism have quite the same impact as actually pulling out a win (in this game -- the less expected, the better).
Wisconsin awards 74 delegates, Hawaii 20. In the more closely watched Badger State, polls close at 9 pm ET, and an open primary and same-day registration provide some helpful Obama factors on a bitter, snowy day across much of the state. The weather's nowhere near as bad as it was over the weekend, and turnout shouldn't be too badly impacted.
Polls show Obama with a slight Wisconsin edge coming into the day, yet even the nasty weather has worked in Clinton's favor, forcing her to spend more time campaigning in the state.
Rather than the next sign of a flailing campaign, a Clinton comeback (take three?) could be born in the snows of Wisconsin; staying close could be enough for her to declare victory -- and at least slow the delegate slide that's building Obama an edge (73 and counting, per ABC's delegate scorecard).
"Earlier [Clinton aides] said they would make their stand against Obama in Ohio and Texas, rather than Wisconsin. But in the past few days they have increased their advertising and, in part because of the impact of Sunday's bad weather on the candidates' schedules, will end up spending more time in the state in the final 48 hours than Obama," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post.
"There is every reason, absent powerful momentum for Obama after last weeks' big victories in Maryland, Virginia and the District, to see Wisconsin as competitive. Both campaigns argue that the state should be favorable to the other side."
"She needs a solid showing in Wisconsin, even if she loses, to stem the impression of a candidacy in decline," John Harwood writes in The New York Times. "A rout in a state with Clinton-friendly demographics -- low black vote, substantial blue-collar vote -- would deflate supporters and donors for her March 4 turnaround bid in nearby Ohio."
"Voters have confounded the pollsters, and in Wisconsin, which has an open primary and same-day registration, the outcome could be even harder to peg," Greg J. Borowski writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"State election officials expect turnout to be about 35% of the voting-age population, which would rank Wisconsin near the top of states that have voted."
In the pre-contest spin, the Obama campaign wants everyone to know that Clinton isn't looking only to Texas and Ohio: Wisconsin will go down as the state that launched the campaign TV ad attacks and counter-attacks. "They're contesting it ferociously," says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
Hawaii's caucuses won't start until 11 pm ET, with results likely to flow in into the wee hours of Wednesday. If there was any doubt, the weather strongly suggests that you'd rather be in Honolulu than in Madison.
In the Republican campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday looks to inch closer to a mathematical lock on the nomination with the help of the 37 GOP convention delegates available in Wisconsin and another 19 at stake in Washington state (the half not awarded in the GOP caucuses) on Tuesday. (The Democrats in Washington already awarded all of their delegates by caucus, and Tuesday's primary is a meaningless beauty contest.)
The sooner McCain can quiet former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., the sooner he can move onto the business of party-healing. A Presidents Day endorsement from a former president helps (though conservative icon, H.W. is not).
Rather than go away quietly, Huckabee has grown sharper in his critique of McCain: "I may be killing my political career, but I know this -- if we don't start thinking in terms of solving some of America's problems, we're killing all of your careers," Huckabee said in Wisconsin Monday, per ABC's Kevin Chupka.
Watch for foreign affairs to spill into the race anew: After nearly half a century (kind of puts the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton thing in perspective), the Fidel Castro era ends (sort of) on Tuesday, though a Castro will remain in power.
Said President Bush, upon hearing the news in Afrida: "The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."
If you're looking for signs that the Clinton campaign is getting its groove back, look at the mischief stirred up over the weekend. Obama, D-Ill., was left on the defensive over his hedging over public financing, and then (perhaps more seriously) over charges of plagiarism.
"It raises questions about the premise of his candidacy," said Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson, ABC's Teddy Davis and Sunlen Miller report.
Per ABC's Eloise Harper, Clinton said Monday night on the press plane: "If your whole candidacy is about words, they should be your own words."
The rhetorical similarities, as ABC's Jake Tapper reported on Sunday, are striking.
Yet Obama is hardly the first candidate to borrow a thought or phrase, as the Obama campaign happily pointed out Monday.
The author of the lines Obama quoted without attribution, Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass. (who shares not just words but David Axelrod with the candidate he's endorsed), told ABC's Diane Sawyer on Tuesday that the Clinton campaign is trying to "belittle his ability to motivate people with language."
"It's an elaborate charge, and kind of an extravagant one," Patrick said on "Good Morning America." "It's not like he's writing a law review article or a book or something like that. . . . It's a sad comment on the state of the race and the state of our politics that the Clinton campaign is taking this particular tactic."
The dust-up grabbed the Clinton campaign network airtime -- but also pushback, with clips showing Clinton borrowing phrases of her own. Nothing has put this anywhere near Joe Biden territory, as political plagiarism scandals go.
But the argument over borrowed words fits neatly into Clinton's latest theme: to "drive home the idea that her Democratic rival's presidential bid is built on style more than substance," Matthew Mosk and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post.
And Obama fundraiser Alan Solomont gives no indication that Obama is ready to embrace public financing all over again: "To be blunt, the ability of Democrats to raise money from both small donors and others is a significant competitive advantage," he said.
Obama on Tuesday morning looked forward a bit: "What's pretty apparent now is is that we're building a big pledged delegate lead that I think it will be hard for Senator Clinton to catch up on," he said on "Today." "Now, we've got to campaign hard in Texas and Ohio. But after March 4th, I think the party is going to have to take a look and see if it's time for us to go ahead and move forward with the nomination."
When they're not in the business of swiping words, they're trying to steal each other's voters. "The two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination are trying to peel away each other's core of support as they compete in Wisconsin today, Ohio and Texas on March 4, and Pennsylvania in April," Bloomberg's Kim Chipman and Lorraine Woellert report.
"Obama is increasingly focusing on older white women and low-income earners, while Clinton is striving for younger voters and independents."
Weather forced Clinton to delay her Wisconsin tour until Monday, but "Clinton's crowds were smaller than those of her opponent for the Democratic nomination," Alan J. Borsuk writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "While many treat Obama as a rock star, it was a polka/folk/jazz band that warmed up Clinton's crowd in Madison." (Metaphor alert.)
She's closing in Wisconsin and Ohio by pushing economic issues, pushing a new economic plan and trying to reach economically distressed voters: "In the last week, Clinton's campaign has become markedly populist in tone as she has emphasized economic themes to win over anxious blue-collar voters in the Wisconsin primary and in the crucial upcoming contests in Ohio and Pennsylvania," Nicholas Riccardi and Tom Hamburger write in the Los Angeles Times.
"Obama has taken much the same tack in the economically squeezed states," they write. "As the candidates aim for the same base of voters, they have tangled more and more in barbed broadsides over their stances on international trade agreements, mortgage foreclosures and economic dislocation."
In appealing to voters in Wisconsin, Clinton and Obama are "pushing the Democratic Party further from the business-friendly posture once championed by Bill Clinton," John M. Broder and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.
They're looking ahead to "the dynamics and calendar of the Democratic race over the next two weeks. Ohio looms particularly large for both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton because it is experiencing many of the troubles afflicting the economy over all."
(Both candidates are also looking to John Edwards -- who's now met with both Obama and Clinton, and came away from the meetings perhaps slightly more impressed by Clinton.)
Yes, this slide has been awful -- but a Clinton comeback remains a very real possibility. "With the primary calendar stretching out for months, the media focusing more intensely than ever on Obama and the Democratic Party's rules under assault, some Democratic strategists say Clinton retains a path to victory — but little margin for error," Politico's Ben Smith writes.
Clinton supporter Hank Sheinkopf offers up one intriguing line of attack: Campaign against Gov. Patrick, as an example of great hope that hasn't quite delivered on its promises. "He's sure done a brilliant job of governing," Sheinkopf said (sarcastically).
And it appears that the Clinton campaign is prepared to play delegate hardball -- not just in wooing superdelegates, and not just in fighting to see the Michigan and Florida delegations seated.
"Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination," Politico columnist Roger Simon writes.
"This strategy was confirmed to me by a high-ranking Clinton official on Monday. . . . This time, one candidate may enter the convention leading by just a few pledged delegates, and those delegates may find themselves being promised the sun, moon and stars to switch sides."
Then there's Tony Rezko -- not disappearing, even though he's behind bars. "Before he bought his South Side mansion in 2005, Sen. Barack Obama took his friend and fundraiser Antoin 'Tony' Rezko on a tour of the premises to make sure it was a good deal, Obama's campaign revealed Monday," per the Chicago Tribune's David Jackson and Bob Secter.
"Weeks after saying he'd answered all questions about his controversial dealings with the now-indicted Rezko, Obama released new details about their purchase of adjacent lots from the same seller on the same day. But the disclosures by Obama's presidential campaign left unanswered questions and raised new ones."
The Obama campaign provided Bloomberg News with e-mails from the seller, in an attempt to quiet questions surrounding the home purchase: "The couple who sold Barack Obama his Chicago home said the Illinois senator's $1.65 million bid 'was the best offer' and they didn't cut their asking price because a campaign donor bought their adjacent land, according to e-mails between Obama's presidential campaign and the seller," Bloomberg's Timothy J. Burger writes.
Could the press coverage be starting to turn? David Brooks coins a phrase in his New York Times column: "Obama Comedown Syndrome."
"As the syndrome progresses, they begin to ask questions about The Presence himself: Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he's waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word? Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd's campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?"
In Hawaii on Monday, it was Chelsea Clinton and Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, in dueling campaign events in Maui. But Chelsea's got her limits: "The lei-bedecked former first daughter watched a keiki performance by Iola Balubar's halau before reluctantly taking the stage to give it a try at the urging of former Maui Mayor James 'Kimo' Apana, who was unable to persuade Clinton to go barefoot and remove her stylish black stiletto-heeled shoes," per the Honolulu Advertiser's Christie Wilson.
Sen. Clinton herself is downplaying expectations in Obama's native state: "I have no predictions to make. I have an uphill battle, and I understand it and I respect it," she told the Honolulu Star Bulletin.
On the Republican side, the push-Mike-Huckabee-out-of-the-race caucus got another member on Monday. Former president George H. W. Bush chose Presidents Day to make his endorsement of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., official. "I believe now is the right time for me to help John in his effort to start building the broad base coalition it will take for our conservative values to carry the White House this fall," the former president said, per ABC's Bret Hovell.
"The endorsement marked another turning point in the complex, evolving relationship between Senator McCain, of Arizona, and the Bush family," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. "From his bitter defeat at George W. Bush's hands in 2000, to their reconciliation, which sometimes led independents to complain that he had allied himself too closely with the president, Mr. McCain has sometimes walked a fine line in the relationship."
McCain is a famously superstitious man, but he's letting himself (or, at least, his gurus) start focusing on the general election. "Plans call for a bigger staff, outreach to more potential donors, offices in battleground states and a revised campaign message that challenges the Democratic vision for change in Washington," The Washington Post's Michael Shear reports.
But McCain knows there's such a thing as too big: "McCain aides are beginning to draft a new general election document that will attempt to balance the need for a bigger national operation with McCain's desire to maintain the small, nimble campaign organization that helped him succeed," Shear writes.
Never too early to speculate on a McCain Cabinet, either: The Arizona Republic's Dan Nowicki sees Huckabee joining Rudy Giuliani, Joe Lieberman, Phil Gramm, and Fred Thompson (attorney general!?!) in a Teddy Roosevelt-style administration.
No candidates are hanging around in Wisconsin (or Hawaii) for victory speeches. Obama campaigns in Texas, Clinton in Ohio, while McCain ends his day in Ohio and Huckabee will be in Arkansas by the time returns flow in.
Also in the news:
A new Texas poll has a virtual tie in the Lone Star State: It's Clinton 50, Obama 48 in the new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll.
Bloomberg's Al Hunt calls the Obama-spun idea of superdelegates potentially usurping democracy a "canard." "Superdelegates are Democratic office-holders and party officials who have an interest in backing the strongest general-election candidate," Hunt writes. "This is peer review. It's how a corporate chief executive officer or a basketball coach or the head of surgery at a hospital are chosen. Those with expertise and experience play a role in the selection."
The AP's David Espo takes a different slice on the story: "An Associated Press review of lawmakers and governors who are superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention turned up three dozen cases in which they hold positions contrary to the expressed will of their own constituents. Based solely on the numbers, Obama is disadvantaged on superdelegates."
The Washington Times' Donald Lambro identifies a potential Clinton edge, should the delegate fight play out at the convention: The three chairmen of the DNC's credentials committee all served in the Clinton administration. "At first blush, the Democratic National Convention's Credentials Committee, facing an impasse over the disputed Michigan and Florida delegations, looks like it could be in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's hip pocket," Lambro writes.
Another Howard Dean headache: "The DNC has effectively stagnated" in terms of fundraising, HuffingtonPost's Tom Edsall and Amanda Michel report.
"The DNC's bottom line, according to most experts, will not improve significantly until the party settles on a nominee. Once that happens, many donors, if past history is a guide, will give to the DNC to boost prospects of taking over the White House."
The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan looks at feminists' take on the campaign so far: "frustrated feminists are looking at what they see as the ultimate glass ceiling: A female candidate with a hyper-substantive career is now threatened with losing the nomination to a man whose charismatic style and powerful rhetoric are trumping her decades of experience," she writes.
"They argue that Clinton has a peculiar burden in this year's contest because she never would have been able to reach the final stages of the nomination process unless she had spent her life emphasizing her professional record over stylistic abilities."
They're just as worried as Clinton's black supporters. "They are feeling some kind of crazy pressure," The Washington Post's Kevin Merida writes. "Last Friday, about 25 of them held an hour-long conference call to discuss what one described as an effort to 'pester, intimidate, question our blackness' for not supporting Obama."
ABC's Jake Tapper has the full text of the Michelle Obama quote that made the Drudge rounds on Monday: "For the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change," she said.
Cue the blogosphere. The Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last: "Do these comments provide a glimpse of her general political worldview -- one that is surprisingly critical of America for the wife of a presidential candidate? Or do they suggest a certain narcissism about the Obamas and their view of themselves? Or both?"
Slate's Mickey Kaus: "Even Dennis Kucinich would probably have no problem finding something to be proud of in the past two decades. If Michelle Obama's default position is set to 'Aggrieved,' it also suggests something personal, no?"
Some veepstakes fun: "It's not something I want," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said of the vice presidency, per Dave Levinthal of the Dallas Morning News. "I'd so much more like to keep helping Texas. I hope I'm not in a position where I'm considered."
Looking ahead to Vermont, Obama has full use of "ObamaMobiles" that will hand out "Cherries for Change," now that he has the support of Ben and Jerry.
"Sen. Clinton is not running on the strength of her rhetoric." -- Howard Wolfson, explaining why it wouldn't be a big deal if Sen. Clinton is discovered to have borrowed words for a speech.
"You can parse this thing eight ways from hell." -- Clinton adviser Harold Ickes on press coverage of superdelegates (what he likes to call "automatic delegates"), in a conference call with reporters Saturday.
"There is goofiness afoot, a sense that, having zoomed from ignored to adored in one day, we might as well put on tons of sparkly eye shadow and enjoy ourselves, because no one will remember our name in the morning." -- Writer Lauren Fox, speaking the truth on the Wisconsin primary.
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