If we've learned nothing else from the Democrats' intramural winter squabbles (now officially spreading into spring) it's that everyone agrees that voters have a sacred right to be heard -- so long as they're likely to help the candidate any particular Democrat happens to support.
Thus the spectacle that dominates the race between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton has:
- Obama wanting the will of the voters to carry the day -- but not for the voters of Michigan and Florida to be included.
- Clinton demanding that the voters of Michigan and Florida be heard -- but insisting that party insiders be free to overturn the voters' collective judgment.
- The Democratic National Committee utterly and entirely powerless to do anything about the mess -- appearing to be neither democratic (lowercase d), national (in influence), nor a committee (per dictionary.com, "a person or group of persons elected or appointed to perform some service or function").
The actions are supremely self-interested, if all within the rules, but they leave us with an undeniable truth: As Michigan's door closes on Thursday, like Florida's before it, the up-shot is this: Obama, D-Ill., is the prohibitive favorite to capture the Democratic nomination. His delegate edge stands at 128, per ABC's scorecard, and two fewer big states mean two fewer big chances for Clinton, D-N.Y., to make up the gap.
"We're on the outskirts of over," ABC contributor Matthew Dowd said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday.
And yet: "It's the superdelegates, we think, who are going to decide this," ABC's Sam Donaldson said. "They're going to look at electability, and in that case, I think Sen. Obama is going to have some weaknesses."
Clinton has practically no margin for error left, and three big things have to go her way, per The New York Times' Adam Nagourney. It starts with a victory in Pennsylvania (looking good) and using the remaining contests to pull ahead in the popular vote (not as likely, but possible).
Then comes the hard part: "Mrs. Clinton is looking for some development to shake confidence in Mr. Obama so that superdelegates, Democratic Party leaders and elected officials who are free to decide which candidate to support overturn his lead among the pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses," Nagourney writes. "For Mrs. Clinton, all this has seemed something of a long shot since her defeats in February. But that shot seems to have grown a little longer."
The Obama campaign knows the superdelegates are watching: "The nomination standoff has made the results in Michigan and Florida potentially scale-tipping," Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post. "Obama supporters among the superdelegates who are likely to ultimately decide the nomination, conceded they still fear a late winning streak by Clinton."
They continue: "A big win in Pennsylvania on April 22, followed by victories in Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, could change superdelegate thinking on which candidate is more electable. Clinton victories in Florida and Michigan revotes would make matters worse for Obama."
In Michigan, "Today is viewed as the final chance for the do-over primary because state House lawmakers, who would have to approve the primary legislation, are set to leave for a two-week spring recess, and it would be too late to organize the election by the time they return," per the Detroit Free Press' Dawson Bell, Kathleen Gray, and Todd Spangler.
Clinton is issuing the challenge to Obama: "Senator Obama speaks passionately on the campaign trail about empowering the American people. Today I am urging him to match those words with actions," she said, per ABC's Eloise Harper.
Clinton backers have lined up the funding for a re-vote, but Obama's not biting, Michael Finnegan and Dan Morain write in the Los Angeles Times. "I understand the politics of it, but let's be clear that it's politics," Obama told CNN.
The actions (or lack thereof) conform with Jake Tapper's two laws of vote-counting, as unveiled Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." 1. "Politicians who are trailing get voting rights fever." 2. "Politicians in the lead fear change."
Short of do-overs, Clinton isn't going to get the delegates she so badly needs. "There is no chance the national party will yield to pressure and approve their delegates if it could tip the outcome of the Democratic presidential race, a potential key arbiter of the dispute said yesterday," per Brian Mooney of The Boston Globe.
James Roosevelt Jr., cochairman of the DNC's rules and bylaws committee, said "that he doubts there will be a resolution of the standoff without the states devising do-over contests to be held before June 10."
A new delegate plan has emerged out of Florida: Seat half of the delegates based on the primary vote, and the other half via other indices that would net Clinton 18 delegates, per the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo.
In the world of superdelegates, Obama is intrigued by Gov. Phil Bredesen's, D-Tenn., proposal for a June "superdelegate convention." Per ABC's Eloise Harper, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes called it a "nice thought, but it will never happen."
As for influencing the superdelegates, maybe the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments is enough of an outside event -- or, at least, enough of a start for Clinton. Obama was rightly proud of his well-received speech on race, but "For far different reasons, Republican political consultants were delighted with the speech, as well," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Looking ahead to November, GOP strategists say Obama did not remove Wright as a campaign issue."
You know the 527 ad is already in the works: "Republicans say they will combine Wright's anti-American rhetoric with other moments -- such as Obama's removal of his American flag pin because he felt it had become a substitute for true patriotism, or his not covering his heart during the national anthem last summer," Tapper reports.
As Politico's Jonathan Martin reports, at least one Wright-Obama mash-up is already on YouTube, the work of a former producer for Laura Ingraham.
Most of the criticism is coming from Republicans, but Democratic superdelegates know their politics. "After a 15-month campaign that largely transcended race, some Democrats say Sen. Obama's association with the Chicago pastor potentially threatens his bid to be the first African-American president," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.
"Superdelegates are watching to see whether the senator's oratory will assuage white voters outraged at Internet videos showing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. suggesting that America be damned for its treatment of blacks," Calmes writes. "Separately, many worry that black voters will be outraged by a sense that Sen. Obama is being unfairly judged. . . . More than the average voter, the 795 superdelegates -- Democratic governors, House and Senate members and party officers nationwide -- are sensitive to calculations about a nominee's electability."
"To critics, Obama's decision to associate himself for 20 years with a church that preaches black nationalism -- an association that once helped establish his credibility in the black community -- prompts serious questions about his patriotism, judgment, and allegiances," Scott Helman writes in a smart Boston Globe piece.
"The episode, which Obama sought to put behind him with Tuesday's widely broadcast speech on race, has become the biggest challenge yet to his campaign's underlying message: that he is uniquely positioned to write America's next chapter because of his capacity to bridge the divides of race, class, ethnicity, generation, and political party."
"In a state chock-full of 'Reagan Democrats' -- white, socially conservative and working-class -- Mr. Obama's Philadelphia speech may have done little to sway them," Mackenzie Carpenter reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The New Republic isn't ready to give up on the race yet: "Calls for Hillary to withdraw--calls that invariably rest on the mathematical case against her candidacy--are premature. By winning Ohio and Texas, Hillary won the right to continue in this race. And, as she and Obama campaign in the days and weeks ahead, their battle over pledged delegates will almost be something of a sideshow."
If you let Mark Penn squint at polls for you, maybe things are tipping already: "Perhaps a significant case of buyer's remorse is setting in as people begin to go through the process of vetting and testing Senator Obama," Penn, Clinton's top strategist, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday -- selectively quoting recent public polling figures, per ABC's Kate Snow.
But it's hard to get a sustained media narrative going when reporters have 17,481 pages of documents about you to read.
The headlines are about where the first lady was on a certain blue (and stained) day, her lack of meetings on the Family and Medical Leave Act, and one NAFTA meeting in particular where she drummed up support for the trade agreement, per ABC's Jake Tapper.
As for all that experience derived from those eight years as first lady, the schedules suggest . . . maybe not so much. "After the collapse of her health-care plan in 1994, she largely retreated to a more traditional first lady's calendar of school visits, hospital tours, photo ops and speeches on a narrower set of issues," Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post.
"The schedules offer some tantalizing tidbits. She spent time with fundraiser Denise Rich at a New York ball in late 2000, just weeks before the president provoked wide criticism by pardoning Rich's ex-husband, Marc," Baker and DeYoung write. "She held four private meetings with her chief of staff, Maggie Williams, on the day in 1996 that an aide presented old law firm billing records subpoenaed two years earlier in the Whitewater investigation."
The Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas and Noam Levey find telling (or not so much) omissions: "The material offered little to support her assertion that her White House experience left her best prepared to become president. The records show she was an active first lady who traveled widely and was deeply involved in healthcare policy, but they are rife with omissions, terse references and redactions that obscure many of her activities and the identities of those she saw."
"It seems doubtful that the schedules made public Wednesday will satisfy those who complain that Clinton touts her experience in her husband's White House, yet refuses to offer details about her precise role," Nicholas and Levey write. (And they notice the Clinton White House getting more closed with time, as the number of "private meetings" multiplies by the late '90s.)
"The documents include only Hillary Clinton's public schedules, not her private calendar. And even those appear to be heavily redacted to exclude almost anything that might be of interest to historians and the inevitable posse of 'oppo' researchers," Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write for Newsweek. "But they show no meetings whatsoever about the Rose Law firm billing records, no sessions with her lawyers to prepare for her grilling by [Ken] Starr."
Mostly, the schedules reveal a first lady acting like . . . a first lady. "The release of 17,000 pages of then-first lady Hillary Clinton's daily schedule in the White House has raised questions about her ability to answer the 3 a.m. phone call she talks about in her commercials," ABC's Brian Ross reports.
"On the day U.S. cruise missiles hit Serbia, the schedules show the former first lady was touring Egyptian ruins. On the day when her husband announced attacks against al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, the schedules show she stayed in Martha's Vineyard on vacation."
Says Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "As for 3:00 AM phone calls, it doesn't even appear there were even any 3 PM foreign policy calls of note."
On foreign trips, Clinton found herself "filling a largely ceremonial role, soaking up local culture and tasting fine cuisine, while touring hospitals and engaging in goodwill gestures," Geoff Earle and Charles Hurt write in the New York Post.
Clinton heads to Indiana on Thursday. "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will focus on jobs today as her presidential campaign takes her to two struggling Indiana cities -- Terre Haute and Anderson -- that once were industrial powerhouses," per the Indianapolis Star's Mary Beth Schneider.
While Clinton talked up Michigan's re-vote on Wednesday, Obama talked about the war in Iraq, and he's got another speech on the war scheduled for 11 am ET in Charleston, W.Va. Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, Obama will talk about costs "that ordinary Americans are paying for this war, beyond the tragic toll in human life. He'll share his plan to end the war and shift our resources to make a difference for families in West Virginia and around the country: providing health care of every American, putting a college education within reach of every young person, increasing teacher pay, and reinvesting in our infrastructure."
The speech in West Virginia will address "his trouble expanding his appeal among working-class white voters, exacerbated by the Wright episode," USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes. "These voters are a significant presence in coming primaries, and their concerns center on jobs and health care."
Obama's Wednesday speech also included some shots at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "Just yesterday, we heard Sen. McCain confuse Sunni and Shia, Iran and Al Qaeda," Obama said, per the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning. "Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no Al Qaeda ties."
McCain's pushback: "The McCain camp issued a release calling the Fayetteville speech 'Senator Obama's Fantasy Plan For Making Us Safer,' " according to Rob Christenson of the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Washington Post columnist David Broder sees a missed McCain opportunity out of his Middle East trip: Gen. David Petraeus, he writes, "clearly opened the door for McCain, as a prospective president, to signal to the government of Nouri al-Maliki that his patience with the political impasse is not inexhaustible. . . . My sense is that voters would be more willing to give McCain the open-ended commitment he desires in Iraq if they thought the Iraqis were fulfilling their part of the bargain."
Another FEC deadline -- February spending and fundraising figures are due to be filed Thursday.
Also in the news:
Might the Clinton campaign be ready to engage on the Wright matter? Surrogate Lanny Davis asks Obama two questions in a HuffingtonPost op-ed:
"1. If a white minister preached sermons to his congregation and had used the 'N' word and used rhetoric and words similar to members of the KKK, would you support a Democratic presidential candidate who decided to continue to be a member of that congregation?
"2. Would you support that candidate if, after knowing of or hearing those sermons, he or she still appointed that minister to serve on his or her "Religious Advisory Committee" of his or her presidential campaign?"
Liberals like Obama: He was the overwhelming winner of the "Take Back America" straw poll, topping Clinton 72 percent to 16 percent. "Though support for Clinton's candidacy was tepid, 48 percent of those polled said they would be 'satisfied' with Clinton as the nominee," Politico's David Mark reports. "Forty-one percent said they would be 'dissatisfied' with her candidacy."
ABC's Martha Raddatz blogs on her interview with Vice President Dick Cheney -- the one where good ol' No. 2 said "So?" when confronted will poll numbers showing two-thirds of Americans saying they don't think the Iraq war is worth the costs. "Maybe I am mistaken, but Vice President Dick Cheney does not seem to enjoy engaging with the press," Raddatz writes. "In fact, it seems downright painful for him. I say this in part, because I have covered the White House now for two-and-a-half years and, as much as I hate to admit it, today was the first time I have really ever met the vice president."
Another GOP House retirement in another swing district: Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., is expected to announce at noon ET that he won't seek another term in his western New York district. Reynolds led the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2006 -- when he barely held on to his own seat.
Bloomberg's Nicholas Johnston and Julianna Goldman check in with the candidates' March Madness picks -- and Obama knows that the North Carolina primary looms (though he may be ceding the Duke vote to Clinton). "Barack Obama is picking the University of North Carolina to win the national college basketball championship, John McCain was working on his tournament bracket last night in London and Hillary Clinton told reporters she needs to check with her sage, Bill Clinton," Johnston and Goldman write.
(Let's hope Sen. Clinton won't have any 3 am moments that involve the over-under at the Mandalay Bay.)
Obama talks sports with the Charlotte Observer (and actually uses the word "bracketology" in an apparently un-ironic context). Asked about his favorite NASCAR driver, he said: "You know I have not met any of these guys. Jeff Gordon seems like a pretty impressive guy. And so I've followed his career. But I can't say that I've been watching a lot of NASCAR lately. I haven't been watching anything lately. That's the biggest problem putting together my bracket. I haven't seen any games. It's all guesswork."
"PRIVATE MEETING/Residence/NO PRESS/NO WH PHOTO." -- Complete description of a four-hour time frame on Hillary Rodham Clinton's schedule from Feb. 12, 1999 -- the day President Clinton was impeached.
"Uh-oh." -- Barack Obama, upon being asked a question in a North Carolina town-hall meeting by a student named Hillary. "I'm just kidding," he added.
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1
Interns for the ABC News Political Unit:
The ABC News Political Unit is now seeking three full-time summer interns in Washington, D.C.
The internship begins Monday, May 19, and runs through Friday, Aug. 22.
Not only do Political Unit interns attend political events and contribute to The Note and the politics page of ABCNews.com, they also help us by conducting research, maintaining contact lists, and updating the political schedule.
In order to apply, you MUST be either a graduate student or an undergraduate student who has completed his or her first year of college. The internship is NOT open to recent graduates.
You also must be able to work eight hours per day, starting early, Monday through Friday. Interns will be paid $8.50/hour.
If you write well, don't mind getting up early, and have some familiarity with web publishing, send a cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible, with the subject line: "INTERN" in all caps. Please indicate in your cover letter the dates of your availability.