The Note: Testing Time

Cue the grown-ups: More than tearing itself apart, the Democratic Party is splitting itself in half -- and there aren't too many big voices around who can (or will) do anything about it.

Consider that, in a space of a week, we have gone . . .

. . . from writing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's obituary to reserving rooms in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and beyond (and watching the Clintons speculate -- more deviously than idly -- on running mates).

. . . from knowing that Ohio and Texas are the two most important states on the calendar to realizing that Florida and Michigan actually are (and from watching the Democrats thrash at each other up over superdelegates to watching them tear each other up over Florida and Michigan -- again).

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. . . from crowning Sen. Barack Obama to wondering how much he wants it and back again (while pondering Clinton's campaign turmoil anew).

. . . from studying the delegate count to discovering that it (almost) no longer matters in this race (math is stubborn -- and you've got to love a game where Wyoming has almost as much bearing on the margin as Ohio and Texas -- but are we really going back to talk of delegate-poaching?).

. . . from watching Sen. John McCain worry about his party's unity to watching him lock down the big minds and bigger wallets (though measuring up the Denny Hastert legacy suddenly seems quite easy, at least in his old district).

Into this weary chaos, what does this week bring? An election in Mississippi on Tuesday that appears likely to extend Obama's delegate lead (110 at latest count, per ABC's delegate scorecard*).

Maybe some resolution to the Florida and Michigan debacles. Perhaps another aide or two from somebody's campaign being pressured to resign over a dumb comment that means precisely nothing (who benefits from this sort of just-another-typical-campaign silliness?).

And surely continued nastiness between Clinton, D-N.Y., and Obama, D-Ill., that does speak to something larger about them both, even if it takes the party backward. Obama's Wyoming win did get him his first news cycle in maybe two weeks (and how many of those can you lose without costing yourself superdelegates?), but the testing of Barack Obama -- and Hillary Clinton -- has only just begun.

"It is tempting to say that the Clinton campaign's plan is to burn the village in order to save it -- that Hillary Clinton believes that Democrats, hypnotized by Obama, are making a historic mistake from which only she can rescue them," The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza writes.

"And it is tempting to add that this means the political destruction of the man who is still most likely to be the Democratic nominee."

Says Clinton strategist Mark Penn (eager to claim credit again?): "Independent and Republican support is diminishing as they find out he's the most liberal Democratic senator." Yet Lizza quotes a Clinton adviser who offers a more candid assessment: "Inside the campaign, people are not idiots. Everyone can do the math," the adviser says. "Everyone recognizes how steep this hill is. But you gotta keep your game face on."

(The New Yorker piece is headlined "The Iron Lady," and the new issue's cover has Obama reaching over Clinton -- in bed -- to try to grab the red phone; do 3 am phone calls adjust for daylight savings? Meanwhile, Newsweek puts Clinton by herself its cover under the headline, "Hear Her Roar.")

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