The Note: March From Madness

You can throw away your brackets -- here's a region's worth of match-ups that matter:

(1) Barack Obama vs. (16) Race

(8) Superdelegates vs. (9) Democracy

(5) Bill Clinton vs. (12) Bill Clinton

(4) Jeremiah Wright vs. (13) Geraldine Ferraro


(6) Clinton library records vs. (11) Tony Rezko trial

(3) Howard Dean vs. (14) Michigan/Florida -- play-in game for the right to face the chairman

(7) Sunni vs. (10) Shiite -- as officiated by John McCain

(2) Hillary Clinton vs. (15) Clinton legacy

All it took was a little big speech and a big little document dump to force a change of possession in the Democratic race.

No, the questions about Rev. Jeremiah Wright aren't going away -- but judge Sen. Barack Obama's speech like this: After hearty rounds of overwhelmingly positive reviews, on Wednesday, it seems, the campaign is ready to move on.

Obama, D-Ill., turns his attention to the Iraq war (that other rationale for his candidacy), and the National Archives is set to release 11,046 pages from the Clinton library Wednesday at 10 am ET -- enough schedules to make a guidance counselor blanch, and enough documents to keep reporters occupied for a while.

Also Wednesday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., tries to go on offense -- she heads to Michigan to highlight her push to make the Wolverine State count. "Clinton supporters, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said the visit to a union hall in Detroit is aimed at whipping up support for the New York senator's push for legislation to allow an early June primary," Dawson Bell writes in the Detroit Free Press.

Key line: "legislative leaders said the proposal . . . won't go anywhere until Obama embraces it," Bell writes.

Obama's speech on race didn't answer all the questions, but he did reset the race, on his own terms (and probably quelled the serious unease in the Democratic ranks). Judging from the reviews, it was a success -- a measured, mature, and nuanced exploration of an issue that rarely gets dealt with directly in public forums.

"The speech was an audacious pivot, an attempt to broaden the focus from Obama's immediate political problem to the collective problem of America's struggle with racial issues," Thomas Fitzgerald writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He thought and aimed big, in a speech that will be remembered for a while regardless of where his campaign winds up. "He confronted race head-on, then reached beyond it to talk sympathetically about the experiences of the white working class and the plight of workers stripped of jobs and pensions," Janny Scott writes in The New York Times. "Historians and others described the speech's candidness on race as almost without precedent."

His dance around Wright's words was among the more intriguing elements of the speech. ABC's Jake Tapper: "In an attempt to move beyond the controversy -- which has threatened to scuff the postracial unifying sheen of his campaign's promise -- Obama used Wright's anger as a way to explain racial grievances of both white and black Americans to focus on 'problems that confront us all' and move beyond 'a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years.' "

Might he have been a mite too careful with Wright? "Barack Obama's first major speech on race drew praise for its eloquence Tuesday -- but Republicans think he handed them a major weapon by refusing to disown family pastor Jeremiah Wright Jr., who is known for racially inflammatory remarks," Newsday's Glenn Thrush writes.

Context matters, and Obama would still rather not have been forced into giving this speech under these conditions. "It was a great speech," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "And it would have been greater if it were not delivered because Obama was in a jam."

It was a distinctly Obama production. "The result was not only the most extensive discussion of race to date by Obama, who generally has played down racial issues while seeking to become the first African-American nominated for the presidency by a major party," USA Today's Susan Page and Kathy Kiely write. "Tuesday's speech, historian Roger Wilkins says, was also the most extensive discussion of race ever by a presidential candidate."

"Not in decades has a prominent candidate so bluntly tackled the issue of prejudice," Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons write in the Chicago Tribune. "The address invited comparisons to John F. Kennedy's speech on his Catholic faith almost a half-century ago."

If this was his goal, he seems to have succeeded: "You could see race bubbling up in a way that was distracting from the issues that I think are so important to America right now," Obama told ABC's Terry Moran, in an interview broadcast on "Nightline" and "Good Morning America." "So what I wanted to do was to, rather than try to tamp it down, lift it up and see if maybe that would help clarify where we are as a nation right now on the issues."

How's this for an interesting racial divide? "Michelle and most of my black friends I think were much more confident and calm about me giving this speech," Obama told Moran. "My white friends and advisers were much more nervous."

He also said that he did not find Geraldine Ferraro's comments to be racist. And in that other critical national question involving race in American society, we learn in the interview that he thinks O.J. did it.

The speech may have brought Obama to earth -- in a good way. "For some voters, the speech might serve to remove the glow of optimism surrounding Obama's candidacy; but for many others, it could make him a more realistic president," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "This wasn't the gauzy vision of diversity draped in tapestry metaphors and colored in rainbow hues: It was a nation confronting its sins and overcoming its deeply held fears and prejudices."

Maureen Dowd was impressed, and yet: "His naïve and willful refusal to come to terms earlier with the Rev. Wright's anti-American, anti-white and pro-Farrakhan sentiments-- echoing his naïve and willful refusal to come to terms earlier with the ramifications of his friendship with sleazy fund-raiser Tony Rezko -- will not be forgotten because of one unforgettable speech," she writes.

Among the great many raving: Andrew Sullivan, Charles Murray, Mike Lupica, John Dickerson, Dick Polman, David Brody, Eugene Robinson, and Richard Norton Smith.

Rush Limbaugh was somewhat less impressed, per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.

Wright's words linger -- for endless playing and re-playing -- but here's one reason this controversy may fade. "Privately, Clinton supporters say the Wright controversy was flaring without their help, and to have Clinton campaign fingerprints on the controversy could enrage black Democrats, many of whom already fault the campaign's tactics toward Sen. Obama," Jackie Calmes and Nick Timiraos write in The Wall Street Journal.

And former DNC chairman David Wilhelm finds a silver lining: "Certainly now America knows he's not a Muslim," Wilhelm said said.

Michigan's plan for a June 3 re-vote would be on track -- except for concerns raised by the Obama campaign. "The plan's fate is in serious jeopardy, in part, because of a wait-and-see tactic adopted by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Democratic front-runner who has the most to lose from allowing a re-vote to go forward," ABC's Teddy Davis and Eloise Harper report. "A re-vote proposal is under serious time pressure: the Michigan legislature is currently scheduled to go on a two-week Easter recess at the end of business on Thursday."

(The Obama clip the Clinton campaign wants you to watch on Wednesday.)

Things look bleak in Michigan: "Michigan's efforts to regain those seats seemed likely to end after state legislators yesterday were unable to agree to a bill that would have authorized a state-run, privately funded primary," June Kronholz writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The bill would have needed the support of Republican legislators for the required two-thirds majority."

Clinton (adding a new pollster, Geoff Garin, to her campaign) ends her superdelegate dry spell with a big one out of Pennsylvania: Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa. "Murtha, a Democratic congressman since 1974, is a retired Marine colonel and leading voice on defense issues," and a leading anti-war voice on Capitol Hill since 2005, per Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

But even without any show-stoppers (and really, how interesting can schedules be?), Clinton's day will be swamped by the papers released by the archives. Get ready for a dissection of every moment spent with Sinbads and statesmen (not to mention healthcare task forces and Rodham-related pardons).

The Los Angeles Times' Johanna Neuman: "The two-term New York senator, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, touts her experience in foreign policy -- saying she would be 'ready on Day One' to lead the nation. That experience is based in part on her husband's eight years in the White House."

Still no tax returns, and we're still waiting on plenty of pages from the library. "The Clinton library is still reviewing another 20,000 pages of material that may be responsive to Judicial Watch's request, including telephone logs, and told the group that those may take one or two years to process," per The Washington Post.

Obama visits North Carolina to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war with a 10:15 am ET speech in Fayetteville. ABC's Jennifer Parker reports that, according to a senior Obama adviser, the senator "will go beyond his plan to pull troops out of Iraq and 'outline a strategic vision for our country' to make the United States more secure."

Says the adviser: "Barack is going to talk about the world beyond Iraq as a way of underscoring that his plan of getting out of Iraq as responsibly as we were irresponsible getting in -- is an effort to make the United States more secure." Thursday, in West Virginia, Parker writes, "Obama will outline how the Iraq war has contributed to the country's economic woes and how the Bush administration's economic policies have left the country more vulnerable to national security threats."

ABC's Sunlen Miller reports that Obama will take on "both" of his opponents -- Clinton and Sen. John McCain, that is. (The RNC is waiting for that bait to appear on the line.)

McCain's Middle East trip (like the last one) isn't all roses. Democrats are pouncing on a McCain flub -- one you can count on the Democratic nominee harping on in the general election.

McCain "incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country," Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear report in The Washington Post.

"Mr. McCain has based his campaign in large part on his assertion that he is the candidate best prepared to deal with Iraq, and the Democrats wasted little time in jumping on his misstatement to question his knowledge and judgment," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. (And the statement would have gone uncorrected if not for a whisper from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.)

Obama campaigns in North Carolina on Wednesday. Clinton hits West Virginia after her morning stop in Detroit, and her husband spends the day in Pennsylvania. Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

The Rev. Al Sharpton is supporting Obama "but he's made the strategic decision to keep his support quiet," according to -- Al Sharpton? "I won't either endorse you or not endorse you," Sharpton said he told Obama, per the New York Daily News' Adam Serwer and Michael Saul. They write: "According to Sharpton, Obama protested and asked for his public support. 'No, no, no. I want you to endorse,' Sharpton recalled Obama saying. Sharpton told Obama that it would be better strategically for him to remain publicly neutral."

(Still looking for East Paraguay, reverend?)

ABC's Martha Raddatz interviews Vice President Dick Cheney during his Middle East trip. "There's a general consensus that we've made major progress; that the surge has worked," he said. "That's been a major success."

Told that two-thirds of the American people tell pollsters that they don't think the war is worth fighting, Cheney responded (with one of THOSE smiles), "So?"

Raddatz: "So -- you don't care what the American people think?"

Cheney: "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. Think about what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had paid attention to polls, if they had had polls during the Civil War."

So how about this? The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn looks at the war's costs: "At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government," he writes. "Five years in, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting."

President Bush delivers remarks Wednesday morning at the Pentagon to celebrate recent successes in Iraq. "The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around -- it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," he plans to say, per excerpts released by the White House.

It's a big day for anti-war demonstrations in Washington.

Say this about the president: He can still raise money. "For a president whose approval rating hovers around 30% and shows no sign of budging, traversing the country with his hand out may be the biggest contribution he can make to his party and its candidates," James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times. "In 11 weeks, Bush has spoken at 11 Republican fundraising events, which have brought in at least $27 million -- a pace of $346,000 per day including Tuesday's two events."

Surprise: Florida Democrats want their votes to count. "According to a new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 statewide poll, the Democratic presidential contenders' boycott of Florida had little effect on Democratic voters' choices here, and an overwhelming plurality want the officially meaningless Jan. 29 results to count," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times. "Also, one in four might not vote for the party's nominee if Florida winds up with no say in the Democratic nomination."

If, somehow, there is another vote: "Obama has gained strength in Florida since the January vote, with Clinton's lead down to 9 points, 46 percent to 37 percent."

Gov. Philip Bredesen, D-Tenn., has a proposal to end the party's nominating angst: a "superdelegate primary." "In early June, after the final primaries, the Democratic National Committee should call together our superdelegates in a public caucus," writes Bredesen, an uncommitted superdelegate, in a New York Times op-ed. "In addition to the practical political benefits, such a plan is also a chance to show America that we are a modern political party focused on results."

Former Mondale campaign manager Bob Beckel has a similar suggestion: "They should stop worrying, make a decision on June 4th, and go enjoy their summer," Beckel writes in a Real Clear Politics column. "Superdelegates will have all the information they need (and none of the excuses they've been hiding behind) to declare support for one of the candidates by June 4th. If voting trends continue as they have, there is no other choice but Barack Obama."

Markos Moulitsas weighs in on Clinton's problems with superdelegates: "There are veterans of the 90s who watched the Clintons neglect their party. But there's also the new generation of super delegates who are champions of the 50-state strategy that Clinton and her campaign have so mercilessly mocked in deed this year," he writes. "It is yet another structural disadvantage for a Clinton campaign that has managed to alienate more than inspire this campaign season."

Former Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Carrie Giddins wants rules to matter: "Now the Michigan Democratic Party is trying to convince the committee that they should have the opportunity to recast their primary votes, while Florida has thrown its hands in the air and is blaming the committee for the self-inflicted situation it finds itself in -- having no convention delegates. Well, all I have to say is, grow up," Giddins writes in a Times op-ed.

The headline out of the "Take Back America" conference: "Seven liberal groups announced Tuesday that they plan to spend $350 million in 2008 on mobilizing voters and advocating on behalf of Democratic candidates," ABC's Jacqueline Klingebiel reports.

Clinton campaign as Ticketmaster: Elton John tickets go on sale at 9 am ET Wednesday. morning.

Al Gore met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., on Tuesday, per ABC's Richard Esposito. Just don't ask if politics was on the agenda: "Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I have no comment. Thanks anyway. I am focused on trying to solve the climate crisis," said the former vice president. "Thank you. Great talking to you guys. Bye-bye."

The kicker:

"I don't think Hillary Clinton's a monster." -- Samantha Power, on "The Colbert Report."

The line prompted Colbert to respond: "What about a good monster, like Cookie Monster? . . . Her campaign slogan could be 'C is for Clinton, that's good enough for me.' "

"If you're an investment banker, don't hit on me. You can quote me. I'm not interested." -- Meghan McCain, in a GQ interview that may mark the end of her straight-talking with the press. On her father's former rival, she said, "Mitt didn't keep it real." She said this on the possibility of Mike Huckabee as a running mate: "That's not going to happen. . . I don't think they'd be a good match for a lot of reasons and am not even sure if that's what Huckabee's going for, anyway. I think he wants to be the head of the evangelical movement."

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