The Note: Hopes and Dreams

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From underneath the wave, Democrats saw their shadow -- and it's a forecast of seven more weeks of campaigning.

One more time, for old time's sake -- this thing is a race again. (How's that for a hope and a dream?)

It turned out that Brett Favre was the only veteran to retire on Tuesday: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., didn't even need to lower the bar to clear it -- the streak was snapped after Vermont made it an even dozen, with Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island coming through for Clinton.

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It had been a long month between victories (and may still have been too long -- the delegate count looms large), but it's enough to shift the scrutiny to her rival, as Camp Clinton pushes the storyline of buyer's remorse.

As for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Tuesday makes three swings for the fences -- and three whiffs. If you want to beat a Clinton, you have to make sure you've finished the job.

(Obama is still the frontrunner, but if Obama thinks resting on a delegate lead is enough, he skipped 16 years' worth of Clinton-delivered lessons. Who better in Democratic politics today to reinvent math?)

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sees his lucky streak continue: He wins twice on Tuesday -- sealing up the nomination, and guaranteeing another round of Democrats doing his dirty work for him. Clinton and Obama rejoin the battle of the decade on Wednesday, while the GOP enjoys a Rose Garden photo op that's the very picture of party unity.

Clinton is taking on Obama by means of trying to take on McCain. "This election now is not only between Sen. Obama and myself. It is, in the voter's mind, between one of us and Sen. McCain. I think that's why I did so well last night," Clinton said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I think national security is the issue against John McCain. I think it is not only legitimate, it's necessary to ask voters to determine who they would like to see as commander-in-chief," Clinton added. "Now it's a real choice, because we know who the Republican nominee is going to be, and I think voters are going to want someone who can stand up on that stage, toe-to-toe with John McCain."

(And decide for yourself whether Clinton's favorable inclination toward a Clinton-Obama ticket is truth-telling, pandering, condescension, or some mix of the three sentiments.)

Now it's Obama minimizing the import of a rival's victories. "Senator Clinton is tenacious, and, you know, she keeps on ticking, and we've just got to make sure that we continue to work hard in every contest," Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer Wednesday morning on "GMA." "We had won 12 in a row. She won two. [Speaking of fuzzy math, it's actually three.]

"As you stated, these were states that she had huge leads going into it, and we closed that gap, but we couldn't close it as much as we'd like," Obama said. "It's going to be very hard for her to catch up on the pledged-delegate count."

These are verbs Obama isn't used to seeing attached to other people's names: "Her victories snapped his winning streak at 12 consecutive contests, rejuvenated her struggling candidacy and jolted a Democratic Party establishment that was beginning to see Obama as the likely nominee," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

The watchword circling inside of Camp Clinton: Restart.

The word inside Obamaland: Delegates.

The two words everywhere else in the Democratic Party: Civil war.

But before you hit control-alt-delete on the race, call the IT guys (they're probably better at math, anyway). Clinton can co-opt Obama's best campaign lines, but she cannot, in all likelihood, catch up in delegates: Even victories in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island netted her a grand total of six delegates on Tuesday (though we're still counting), per ABC's delegate scorecard, leaving her 106 behind Obama.

"We have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning and we are on our way to winning this nomination," Obama said Tuesday night.

Obama will almost certainly be the next one to add to his column, with him set to travel to Wyoming in advance of Saturday's caucus, and Mississippi voting on Tuesday (and Clinton knows now that pre-spinning losing streaks doesn't necessarily make them easier -- though an upset would be a Major Event).

Per ABC's Kate Snow, Clinton could make her first campaign trip to Pennsylvania as soon as Thursday. "We will press the twin ideas of commander in chief and steward of the economy as what people are looking for," strategist Mark Penn says.

Yes, Clinton got her wins in more big states, "But a larger problem loomed: the delegate gap with Mr. Obama that seemed to leave the Clinton team the option of trying to negotiate the nomination instead of winning it," Wayne Slater writes in The Dallas Morning News. He sprinkles in some understatement: "Ultimately, the fractious nature of the party fight would be better resolved by party leaders before the convention."

"As she vowed to keep campaigning, the tight vote in Texas signaled she may yet face a tough decision in coming weeks," The Washington Post's Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut write. "The slim margin in the Texas popular vote and an additional caucus process in which she trailed made clear that she would not win enough delegates to put a major dent in Sen. Barack Obama's lead. And regardless of the results, she emerged from the crucible of Ohio and Texas with a campaign mired in debt and riven by dissension."

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter runs the numbers: "No matter how you cut it, Obama will almost certainly end the primaries with a pledged-delegate lead, courtesy of all those landslides in February," Alter writes. "Hillary would then have to convince the uncommitted superdelegates to reverse the will of the people. Even coming off a big Hillary winning streak, few if any superdelegates will be inclined to do so. For politicians to upend what the voters have decided might be a tad, well, suicidal."

"The Democratic race has come down to a contest of numbers versus narrative," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "The numbers are on Barack Obama's side."

The New York Post's Charles Hurt is blunter than most: "Hillary Rodham Clinton can not win the Democratic nomination without destroying her party. . . . In order to catch up, Clinton must rack up unprecedented victories in all the upcoming contests - a tall order. The only way she wins without such mystical intervention is if superdelegates -- the party insiders loyal to her and her husband for whatever political reasons -- step in and throw the election to her."

There are now two voting blocs that Clinton cares about (and you tell us which matters more): Voters in Pennsylvania (if April 22 doesn't seem that far away, consider that seven weeks ago we were eagerly anticipating the Nevada caucuses) and the all-important superdelegates (just maybe less likely to flock to Obama than his campaign might have hoped).

The victory should stem the tide of defections, but the pause could be temporary. "For Mrs. Clinton, the battle ahead is not so much against Mr. Obama as it is against a Democratic Party establishment that had once been ready to coalesce behind her but has been drifting toward Mr. Obama," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "The party wants a standard-bearer now to wage the war against the newly minted leader of the Republicans, Senator John McCain, who enjoys a head start with every day that the Democrats lack a nominee of their own."

And in case you thought Howard Dean's day couldn't get any worse, this fight is coming back: "The results will also embolden her campaign's efforts to persuade the Democratic Party to factor in the delegates from Florida and Michigan, her advisers say," Healy writes.

Clinton's victory -- particularly because of how it came -- won't quiet questions surrounding her candidacy. "With no margin for mistake, she had to do what she had been unable to do previously: make Barack Obama mortal," Michael Tackett writes in the Chicago Tribune. "Before the critical primaries in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, her campaign had vowed to throw the 'kitchen sink' at Obama to derail the momentum that had led to wins in 11 straight contests. She honored that vow. . . . Her strategy was built on a foundation of contradiction."

Clinton used a "winning formula that has Republicans smiling --and some Democratic leaders hoping to end the race soon," AP's Ron Fournier writes. "Though she still faces a virtually insurmountable disadvantage in the delegate chase, the New York senator managed to keep her campaign afloat with a "kitchen sink" attack strategy designed to raise doubts about Obama. It worked, but to what end?"

Obambi is a distant memory: "A senior Obama adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama's team will respond to Tuesday's results by going negative on Clinton -- raising questions about her tax records and the source of donations to the Clinton presidential library, among skeletons in the Clintons' past," Fournier writes.

Obama on Tuesday signaled that he's ready to run against Clinton and McCain simultaneously: "John McCain and Hillary Clinton should know there is nothing empty about the call for affordable health care," he said in his first non-victory speech in a very long while.

This time, the media could be her friend: "For the first time in his improbable rise, Obama himself became the main issue in the campaign -- and the voters' response wasn't encouraging," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "The long wait for Pennsylvania will give both campaigns a chance to rearm themselves with money and issues. But compared with previous chapters in this drawn-out epic of an election year, Obama will almost certainly be receiving greater scrutiny than Clinton."

Yet Clinton's purchase of seven additional weeks allows her to argue against Obama as she positions herself against McCain. "By defying expectations with convincing victories in two major states, Clinton will likely be able to quiet the calls for her to withdraw from the race and focus her energies on the next big primary," Time's Jay Newton-Small reports. "If Clinton wins there she can at least try to claim that she alone won all the 'big' states and has the best shot at winning the general election -- an argument she would surely use to try to convince Democratic super delegates to help her secure the nomination."

Obama strategist David Axelrod provides a hint of what's to come: "There are many questions that they haven't answered for all their yammering about how unfairly they've been treated. What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Camp Clinton issues a jaunty set of talking points to its surrogates on Wednesday, with this sentence in bold (just above mentions of the campaign's two favorite five-letter words -- Rezko and NAFTA): "Sen. Obama found himself on the defensive on whether he is ready to be President. Questions about whether he is ready to take that 3 am phone call and be commander in chief abound."

All eyes settle on the Keystone State (earning its nickname this year, as the road to Pennsylvania Avenue heads through good old PA): "It could be like Iowa on steroids," state Democratic Party chairman T.J. Rooney tells the Philadelphia Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis and Mario F. Cattabiani.

They write: "Picture national media crews doing live shots from a small deli in Scranton. Or an old steel mill in Pittsburgh. Or an inner-city church in Philadelphia. And millions of dollars pouring in for television ads featuring the two candidates and their positions."

And ABC's Kate Snow spies an interesting sign at Clinton's victory party: "Meet me in Indiana!" The Indiana primary is May 6.

The most encouraging sign for Clinton: At least for one day, her base came home. "Latinos, working-class voters, women and late deciders helped Hillary Clinton overcome Barack Obama's recent winning streak," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. Her key groups -- "more Latinos in Texas, more lunch-bucket voters in Ohio -- [gave] Clinton much-needed wins after her string of defeats since Feb. 9. She also did well with late deciders, winning those who made up their minds in the final few days by 18 points in Ohio and 23 in Texas."

Another key point: Experience didn't get destroyed by change. "While the theme of change continued to resonate in Ohio and Texas, it wasn't by as wide a margin as in most previous primaries."

"Hillary Clinton's victory in the tight Texas primary race largely came down to whether voters valued change or experience," Clay Robison and Peggy Fikac write in the San Antonio Express-News. "And it also hinged on race and ethnicity."

"Clinton carried many of the groups that formed the early backbone of her campaign," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times. :She won the votes of 2 in 3 white women and almost 6 in 10 white men. . . . Clinton also enjoyed an edge among voters making less than $50,000 a year, who made up about half the electorate."

Your bottom line: She's not dead yet. "You guys keep trying to bury us, but we keep rising up," Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe tells The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "pretending to claw his way out of a grave."

Topping the list of ecstatic Republicans is McCain, who couldn't have chosen a better night to seal the nomination. He immediately turned his focus to Iraq -- everyone ready for another national-security election?

Said McCain: "Now, we begin the most important part of our campaign: to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interests of the country we love."

The Republican National Committee is set to follow the president's announcement with an official declaration of its own. And this statement is coming Wednesday from House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: "Republicans in Congress are united behind Senator John McCain for President of the United States. Yesterday's results prove once again that voters share the same values that have guided McCain during his distinguished career in public service, including his opposition to wasteful Washington spending and his commitment to keeping America strong and secure."

Signs of party unity are only the beginning of what McCain has won. "Beyond the victory itself, the spoils of Mr. McCain's triumph are a pair of precious political commodities: money and time," Dave Levinthal writes in The Dallas Morning News. "And if time indeed heals all wounds, Mr. McCain will take all he can get."

He has all the time he needs to regroup. "Already, Sen. McCain and his aides were plotting an aggressive electoral strategy including plans to campaign in the Democratic stronghold of California, the largest prize in the Electoral College," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "At the same time, the campaign was planning a series of policy speeches to flesh out his views, and preparing to take control of the Republican National Committee and its vast resources."

But the time will evaporate: "There are three things McCain must do that won't be easy," Fred Barnes writes in The Weekly Standard. "The most important is to bring Barack Obama down to earth from his pedestal in the heavens. He's still the likely Democratic nominee, after all, despite Hillary Clinton's primary wins yesterday. And he's mostly gotten away with campaigning as if he's on a mission to purify America, not merely running to capture the presidency."

Time's Michael Scherer answers his own question: "McCain: Luckiest Nominee on Earth?"

Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., exits stage right -- missing his cue, yes, but probably not by so much that he can't get a call-back. "There is no doubt the longshot-turned-contender left his mark on the GOP race," ABC's Kevin Chupka and Nitya Venkataraman write. "Huckabee's brand of social conservatism, combined with his strong core support among evangelicals, and a frugal campaign budget, left party rivals scrambling to defend their conservative credentials."

Said Huckabee: "We kept the faith -- that for me has been the most important goal of all."

Does anyone think he's gone from the scene? "Me, personally, I'm looking at 2012, 2016," one supporter tells The New York Times' Leslie Wayne.

Also in the news:

Wrapping it up early gives McCain an absurd amount of time to play the veepstakes game. "Mr. McCain and several senior campaign advisers insist that there is no short list of names, and no process to help him make his choice -- merely a process to find a process. He directed his campaign to study past methods," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. "The choice of a running mate is always important, but it may be particularly so in Mr. McCain's case, given that, at 71, he is seeking to become the oldest candidate ever elected to a first term as president."

He's still got plenty of work to do with his base, too: "Some of the same conservative activists who have recently signed on to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign are also still hard at work trying to undo his most famous legislative accomplishment," Matthew Mosk and Robert Barnes write in The Washington Post.

"Now, with McCain the apparent Republican nominee, these same activists have said they will support McCain but have no intention of dropping their challenges to the [McCain-Feingold] fundraising law. Their determination to undo McCain's legislation speaks to the deep fault lines that divide the Republican base from McCain -- and to the challenges McCain faces in winning them over."

In case you grabbed a few hours of sleep, Obama took the Texas caucuses, amid a flurry of accusations of Obama-engineered chicanery, and threats of legal action.

Obama lawyer Bob Bauer called into the Clinton campaign's conference call Tuesday, "in one of the most bizarre moments of the 2008 campaign," per ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib. Asked Bauer: "how is this any different from the series of complaints that you've registered against every caucus that you lose?"

Texas Democrats find a new appreciation of how good Iowans are. Write Max B. Baker and Sarah Bahari in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Poll workers ran out of sign-in sheets. Voters didn't know whether they had to flash some kind of identification. After waiting for more than hour, they were shuttled into one group and then another before casting the caucus vote."

Vermont is the last state President Bush hasn't visited, and here's another reason to stay away: "Residents in this iconoclastic town [of Brattleboro] cast a symbolic protest vote Tuesday, directing town officials to draw up indictment papers against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for violating their oath of office," Susan Smallheer writes in the Rutland Herald. "It was the second southern Vermont town to adopt the anti-Bush resolution on Vermont's Town Meeting Day, as Marlboro voted earlier in the day 43-25 in favor, with three abstentions."

Obama did take Vermont, rather easily.

The Chicago Tribune's Andrew Zajac delves into some Clinton Foundation finances, exploring the former president's "Midas touch." "The Clinton Foundation's good fortune with Accoona stock is among several lucrative transactions involving the former president's personal and charitable finances. Since leaving office in 2001, Clinton has wiped out millions of dollars in legal bills and become a multimillionaire through a brisk schedule of speechmaking and book-writing, as well as a pair of consulting and investing agreements that have yielded as-yet-undisclosed sums."

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, survive their primary challenges. (Thus emboldened -- Kucinich-Paul '12)?

The kicker:

"I didn't expect that you guys would bite on that." -- Barack Obama, offering his own media critique after Clinton pushed coverage in her favor by calling for more press scrutiny of her rival.

"I guess I'm only interested in the big finale. . . . This is just a sideshow." -- Ralph Nader, choosing not to watch election returns come in while waiting for his train in New York's Penn Station, to ABC's Jay Shaylor.

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