The Note: Ring Tone

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hears the phone ringing, and it's the sound of her last best shot at capturing the Democratic nomination.

"It's 3 am, and your children are safe and asleep," says her closing ad for Ohio and Texas. "Who do you want answering the phone?"

Yowsers. It's about as subtle as a blunt-instrument-of-a-message can be. And it worked for Walter Mondale and Lyndon Johnson, as George Stephanopoulos pointed out on ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday: "This is the nuclear option. It's either going to work or it's going to blow back," he said. (It's Roy Spence, trying to recreate his Mondale magic.)

The $35 million raised by Clinton this month just might buy her another four or five days of loyalty from her supporters, and it surely will get her latest message (among many others) in the necessary circulation in Ohio and Texas.

It also would purchase about two-thirds of Sen. Barack Obama's fundraising month. And that message is getting old for Camp Clinton. (Some well-funded Obama pushback -- the ad featuring retired Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, praising Obama as the right candidate on foreign policy, is coming back into circulation.)

As we enter what may be the twilight of the Clinton era in Democratic politics, Clinton, D-N.Y., is stuck in uncomfortably familiar territory. Despite the distinctly sharper message, for all the loyalty and dedication of her supporters (and raising $35 million this month despite the February blues is real cause for celebration for Terry McAuliffe and company), a nomination may be slipping away here: By the same measures the Clinton team is citing, supporters of Obama, D-Ill., are fired up and ready to go -- and then some.

Clinton found the fundraising surge "heartwarming," she said on the trail, but even McAuliffe's enthusiasm has to be curbed by this: Obama is expected to top $50 million when February's receipts are counted, ABC's David Chalian reports. (Ponder that figure -- 29 days, $50 million.)

Her frustration is palpable -- and understandable. Her core message about Obama isn't changing, but it isn't getting -- or, at least, hasn't gotten -- through. "I think the best description actually is in Barack's own book," Clinton told ABC's Cynthia McFadden in a "Nightline" interview Thursday, "where he said that he is a blank screen and people of widely different views project what they want to hear."

"He just hasn't been around long enough," Clinton continued. And she learns the downside of an inevitable candidacy: When you're knocked from your perch, nobody forgets that once were the frontrunner: "I'm still being treated like that -- in terms of people coming after me."

"Every so often I just wish that it were a little more of an even playing field, but, you know, I play on whatever field is out there," Clinton said.

How much sympathy would a lawsuit earn her? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jay Root: "The Texas Democratic Party is warning that its March 4 caucuses could be delayed or disrupted after aides to White House hopeful Hillary Clinton raised the specter of an 'imminent' lawsuit over its complicated delegate selection process. . . . Democratic sources said representatives from each campaign had made it clear they are keeping all their options open but that the Clinton campaign in particular had warned of an impending lawsuit."

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