The Note: High Roads, Low Roads

She's lost more delegate ground (another boring blowout), her governor (and superdelegate) is being run out of town (in slow-motion tragicomedy), and her supporters aren't exactly helping her with their observations about her opponent.

But being Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., isn't all bad news these days. After all this action, now comes an odd six-week lull -- and time is looking like Clinton's biggest ally these days.


As we bid temporary farewell to actual real-life voting (we hardly knew ye, yet somehow we'll find a way to occupy ourselves), several dynamics favor Clinton: Frozen superdelegates. Possible re-votes in Florida and Michigan. A looming contest in Pennsylvania where she can build on her core argument.

And Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is starting to play Clinton's game. It's him demanding that a Clinton supporter step down over off-message comments -- allowing Camp Clinton to claim some clean ground in the mud match that is the Democratic campaign these days.

"I don't think that Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party," Obama told the Allentown Morning Call's Josh Drobnyk and John L. Micek. "I would expect that the same way those comments don't have a place in my campaign, they shouldn't have a place in Senator Clinton's."

Obama expanded on his comments on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. "When some of my surrogates have made statements that I don't think were appropriate, they left the campaign," he said. "I think that we have to set a tone in the Democratic Party that projects bringing the country together, unifying the country. I think that's what we're about."

What Ferraro is about is anybody's guess -- but she isn't making things go away quietly. She told ABC's Diane Sawyer that she is "not part of the campaign" and is "not a surrogate," then proceeded to ensure that the story will stay alive: "I was celebrating the fact that the black community in this country has come out with a pride in a historic candidacy, and has shown itself at the polls."

Her trip to the high ground: Obama, she said, is "doing precisely what they [Obama aides] don't want done -- it's going to the Democratic Party and dividing us even more."

This used to be the old, tired politics, but now it's fair game. The fact that the Obama campaign is pouncing means -- depending on your perspective -- that Obama is either rattled or ready to grow up.

This time it's Clinton on the high ground -- she ultimately said Tuesday that she would "reject" Ferraro's comments, per ABC's Jake Tapper, but her campaign is dismissing the dust-up as silliness.

"The controversy continued as Obama's advisers demanded a more dramatic renunciation and as Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams accused the Obama team of fanning the race issue," Anne Kornblut and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post. Williams added "that Clinton had distanced herself from Ferraro but that the Obama campaign continued to raise the issue."

(Hmmm -- sound familiar?)

"Has Barack Obama decided to start 'playing the victim'?" ask ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib. "[The] call for Clinton to remove the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee from her campaign came just one day after Obama decided to start making an issue of the DrudgeReport's claim that the Clinton camp forwarded a photo of Obama in Somali garb."

Welcome to the new, (maybe) improved Obama war room, The Hill's Sam Youngman writes. "Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) campaign has signaled in recent days it will hit back harder and more quickly to criticism from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) campaign," Youngman reports. "The Obama campaign has stepped up its rhetoric in the campaigns' daily dueling conference calls with reporters."

Even on the substance of the Ferraro comments (if there is a substance left), this may work well for Clinton, particularly after a vote in Mississippi that saw the vote break down on racial lines. "The argument over race and grievance could carry short term benefits for Hillary Clinton, and could boost her support among white voters in Pennsylvania who may be turned off by a more intense focus on Obama's race," Politico's Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn write. "But a Clinton supporter's charge that Obama has received preferential treatment because he's black also carries serious dangers for her."

Who is happier that this is what the campaign has become? "A reporter will never go wrong at a Clinton or Obama press conference by asking: 'Senator, what about the latest outrage?' " Slate's John Dickerson writes. "The question is always apt, because taking umbrage and responding to it has become the chief daily business of the Democratic campaign."

On the broader point, consider the very fact that Clinton -- trailing significantly (and probably permanently) in the pledged delegate count -- can even make a claim to be winning.

"Mr. Obama is emphasizing the breadth of his appeal -- his lead in the popular vote and in pledged delegates and his victories in states that Democrats have trouble carrying in general elections," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has focused on her victories in states with the most Electoral College votes, like Ohio and California, and her strength among groups like women, blue-collar workers and Hispanics."

You try mapping the endgame: "The Democrats are stuck in their own mud. They have no scripted ending to this titanic battle, no scenario ready for wide embrace. Or any embrace. Or even a handshake," Kevin Merida writes in The Washington Post. "On the let's-get-real level, Democrats have problems even a blind man can see. Their primaries and caucuses have revealed labor splits, racial and ethnic splits, gender splits, age and class splits, and a rivalry that is getting nastier by the day."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for one, is clear-eyed about the "dream ticket." "I think that ticket either way is impossible," Pelosi told NECN's Alison King.

Obama on the veep thing, on "GMA": "I am not running for vice president. I am not thinking about accepting a vice presidency. I am running for the presidency of the United States of America."

More (possible) good news for Clinton: Florida is moving toward a re-vote. "Florida Democrats are planning for the nation's largest vote-by-mail election so the state's delegates can have a say in the hotly contested presidential nominating fight," USA Today's Fredreka Schouten writes. "Under the Florida plan, to be submitted to the DNC by the end of the week, the state party would pay for the new primary."

But don't buy any stamps yet: "The plan is still being developed and significant hurdles remain, not the least of which is strong opposition by the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, as well as the unified opposition of the nine Democrats in Florida's congressional delegation," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times.

Said Obama, on the prospect of voting by mail: "I think there's some concerns in terms of making sure that whatever we do is fair, and that votes are properly counted and the logistics make sense."

Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams on Wednesday sends a letter to her Obama counterpart, David Plouffe: "Over the last few weeks, there has been much discussion about how to ensure that the Florida and Michigan delegations are seated. We think there are two options: Either honor the results or hold new primary elections."

Obama's campaign gets a boost with Tuesday's victory in Mississippi, another ho-hum 20-pointer.

His victory -- added to his Wyoming caucus win on Saturday -- more than wipes out the ground Clinton made up last week in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island, Bloomberg's Catherine Dodge reports. "Clinton's hurdle in amassing delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination is illustrated by Obama's victories in the small states that eliminate her gains," Dodge writes.

But, per the AP's David Espo and Chuck Babington, "his triumph seemed unlikely to shorten a Democratic marathon expected to last at least six more weeks -- and possibly far longer -- while Republicans and their nominee-in-waiting, Sen. John McCain, turn their attention to the fall campaign."

It was a solid, sweeping win, but Obamaland can't love the signals from the exit polls. "The results reflected a stark racial divide -- more than nine in 10 African Americans voted for Obama, while seven in 10 whites backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Reflecting his recent difficulties . . . he was edged by Clinton among voters who said they made their final decision within the last week."

"Broken down, the Mississippi vote had an unmistakable racial descant -- and unmistakable limits for Obama," Time's Michael Duffy writes. "Exit polls revealed once again an emerging racial divide that has opened in the Democratic party between whites who tend by healthy margins to favor Clinton and blacks who overwhelmingly favor Obama."

The results add "fuel to Clinton's argument that his success in the nomination race is built tenuously on states where Democrats face dim prospects in November," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "Tellingly, neither candidate was anywhere near Mississippi yesterday while voters went to the polls."

As for where they spent the day, Camp Clinton likes its chances in Pennsylvania -- where the campaign has six weeks to show that it has learned its lessons. "The Clinton campaign will blanket the commonwealth with events, recruit thousands of volunteers and throw strategic attacks at rival Sen. Barack Obama," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal. "What it will not do is mimic the tactics it used in Iowa -- flying the candidate around on a 'Hill-A-Copter' that costs several thousand dollars a day to charter; spending more than $95,000 on sandwich platters for caucus-night parties; or paying an estimated $3,000 for 600 snow shovels and thousands of pounds of rock salt to clear sidewalks for caucus goers when the forecast didn't call for snow."

But don't count those delegates yet, Politico's David Paul Kuhn writes. "It's hardly a lock, especially if Barack Obama can make inroads with a few key constituencies outside of his reliable base of affluent whites, liberals, African-Americans and the youth vote."

Obama on Wednesday continues the commander-in-chief pushback, with a press conference in Chicago with retired admirals and generals.

Obama had foreign policy on his mind when he talked to the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday: On Iraq, he said, Clinton is "trying to finagle her way out of her misjudgments on the most important foreign-policy issue of our time."

As for Gov. (still) Eliot Spitzer, D-N.Y. -- he hasn't become a major campaign distraction for Clinton -- yet. The day began with anticipation that the departure of Mr. Spitzer, a first-term Democrat, was imminent and that Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson would assume his job," Danny Hakim and Ian Urbina write in The New York Times. "But it ended with the New York political world in a suspended state, as cries -- even from fellow Democrats -- grew louder for the governor to step down. Several aides said they expected him to resign on Wednesday, but none knew for certain what would happen."

Sen. Clinton wants this over and done. "While Spitzer and Clinton have never been personally close -- he was famously slow to endorse her presidential bid and never traveled for her campaign -- the governor's fall from grace will likely remain an annoyance for Clinton on the campaign trail," David Saltonstall and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News.

"She will likely be asked again -- and again -- about Spitzer's misdeeds, which can only serve to remind voters about former President Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky."

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan: "Hillary Clinton is faced with an awkward choice: Call for the resignation of a fellow Empire State Democrat and raise comparisons with her own husband's behavior as president, or keep quiet and risk the appearance of condoning Spitzer's alleged offense."

The New York Post -- pegging Spitzer's expenditures at more than $80,000 -- reports that Spitzer will resign Wednesday morning.

"Members of his staff and that of the state's lieutenant governor prepared for what they hoped would be an orderly transition following disclosures alleging the liberal Democrat paid high-class hookers for sex," ABC's Richard Esposito and Brian Ross report.

If Spitzer choose to stay in office an fight, he's borrowing a page from Clinton -- Bill, that is, Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun. "Governor Spitzer seemed to approach the sex scandal that has engulfed him by tearing a page from the playbook that saved President Clinton from political oblivion, but there are serious doubts about whether the New York governor has the charisma or political capital to execute a similar comeback," Gerstein writes.

And the heat is rising on Spitzer -- impeachment is a real possibility, and the legal charges could get very serious, very fast. "As Gov. Spitzer held the state hostage to negotiate a sweet plea deal Tuesday night, probers looked to see if he used tax dollars for trysts with high-priced hookers totaling up to $80,000," the New York Daily News reports.

"Although the cash used to pay for a $4,300 prostitute named 'Kristen' apparently came from Spitzer's account, he used taxpayer dollars to fly to and from his illicit rendezvous."

Per The Washington Post: "Weeks before a hotel meeting with a prostitute that threatens to derail his career, the FBI staked out New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer at the same hotel in an unsuccessful effort to catch him with a high-priced call girl, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation."

ABC's Brian Ross speaks to a 22-year-old call-girl who says she serviced the governor -- and she provides just enough detail for a snappy campaign bumper sticker. "He didn't do anything that wasn't clean," she said -- and he's a good tipper. (Who said chivalry was dead?)

A final word from Geraldine Ferraro -- before anyone can locate the mute button. She called back the Daily Breeze newspaper on Tuesday to expand on her comments: "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?" (Do you really want to know?)

On the Republican side, with Sen. John McCain in re-charge-the-batteries mode, the lobbying for vice president has officially begun.

No hemming or hawing from former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass.: He tossed his hat quite forcefully into the ring on "Hannity & Colmes" Tuesday night. "I think any Republican leader in this country would be honored to be asked to serve as the vice-presidential nominee, myself included. . . . Of course this is a nation which needs strong leadership. And if the nominee of our party asked you to serve with him, anybody would be honored to receive that call."

(In classic Romney fashion, he hasn't always felt this way: Way back in January, he said, "I'm not going to be any vice president to John McCain, either.")

And Romney seemed to be auditioning to be, well, the pit bull. "When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and [the Democrats] are the Chihuahuas," he said. (Does Romney, of all people, really want to employ dog metaphors?)

Wonder how that fits with the new law of the land, as offered by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. "Overheated rhetoric and personal attacks on our opponents distract from the big differences between John McCain's vision for the future of our nation and the Democrats," Davis wrote in a document e-mailed to Republican officials and staffers, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.

"This campaign is about John McCain: his vision, leadership, experience, courage, service to his country and ability to lead as commander in chief from day one."

Get the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

It really is hard to figure out why anyone would think the Bush administration is not open to dissenting views. An Esquire article that said Admiral William Fallon was at odds with President Bush over Iran policy led very directly to his resignation on Tuesday, per ABC's Jennifer Parker, Martha Raddatz, Jonathan Karl, and Luis Martinez.

"Although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there," Fallon said in a statement.

The New York Times' Thom Shanker: "There was no question that the admiral's premature departure stemmed from what were perceived to be policy differences with the administration on Iran and Iraq, where his views competed with those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who is a favorite of the White House."

The Esquire article provided the last straw in a drink that didn't want stirring.

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf writes up why talk of Democrats achieving the magic six-oh in the Senate is no longer ridiculous. "Democrats have no resignations or retirements and are mounting full-scale assaults on the Republican-held seats in states like Oregon, Maine and New Hampshire -- reliably Democratic states in presidential elections," he writes.

"But across the country, from New Jersey to Iowa to South Dakota to Arkansas, it is not that any given Republican Senate candidate lags in the polls; the problem for Republicans these days is that in many states they lack viable candidates."

Elsewhere on the Hill: "The House last night approved one of the most significant changes to its ethics rules in decades, creating for the first time an independent panel empowered to initiate investigations of alleged misconduct by members of the chamber," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post.

And it was ugly: "A parliamentary maneuver before the final vote was defeated by a single vote, and only after Democratic leaders held the vote open an extra 16 minutes to twist enough arms to secure passage," Weisman writes.

The latest from the Obama press chronicles: reporters as . . . luggage? "Today, he showed disdain when a reporter was brave enough to try to ask him about a charge his campaign made today that suggested Geraldine Ferraro acted in a racist way when she recently talked about his candidacy," John McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune. Said Obama, when a reporter tried to ask a question (!) at a campaign event: "See, this is what we get."

The New York Times follows the AP's reporting on McCain's role in the Air Force's Boeing snub: "Boeing, which has filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office, is expected to focus at least in part on Mr. McCain's role in the deal, including letters that he sent urging the Defense Department, in evaluating the tanker bids, not to consider the potential effects of a separate United States-Airbus trade dispute," the Times' David M. Herszenhorn reports.

With McCain heading back to the Granite State Wednesday, the New Hampshire Democratic Party has some fun with Bush and McCain in a Web ad (anyone detecting a theme in Democrats' attacks?).

The House of Labor is spending some early cash, the Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook and Tom Hamburger write. "Some are becoming concerned that the party now risks losing its hold on a more established set of needed supporters: blue-collar workers. The fears are strong enough that the AFL-CIO today will announce a multimillion-dollar campaign to discredit Republican candidate John McCain among union households and link him to President Bush's unpopular economic policies."

Don't scrap those lawn signs yet: Ron Paul is still running, folks (and, uttering sentences like this, it's just a matter of time before things turn his way, no?). "The true revolution, the change in party and the change in the country is ongoing and we feel very good about it, which means I'm still in the race, but certainly in a manner that is less energetic than it was six months ago," Paul said on CNN.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank opens the line on the latest in campaign technology: the conference call with reporters. "The two campaigns have increasingly used the teleconference in recent weeks as their preferred delivery vehicles for bombing runs on one another," Milbank writes.

The kicker:

"I think the only 'red-phone' moment was: 'Do we eat here or at the next place?' " -- Sinbad, recalling his 1996 trip to Bosnia with Hillary Clinton, to The Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers.

"At the time, he claimed it was to help him focus and concentrate." -- A "source," explaining to the New York Post that Gov. Eliot Spitzer asked for a classical-music CD to bring into his Mayflower Hotel room the night of his alleged tryst with "Kristen."

"I realize that he may have been a little sleep-deprived." -- Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., now realizing why Spitzer was a bit testy at a congressional hearing the morning after his Mayflower stay.

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