Sometimes, like a Cinderella team marching through March, Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign seems nothing short of charmed.
It helps that while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has 10 weeks to make Obama totally and entirely unelectable, Obama just has to wait out the clock.
But the outside help Obama is getting (some that he asked for, some that he didn't) is the X-factor -- and it means that, even as Obama grapples with perhaps the biggest challenge to his candidacy, he will be the nominee short of something else dramatic happening in the race that's already seen everything.
To survey the data points on a good Friday in Obamaland, in what had the potential to be a very rough week:
- Obama controls Friday's marquee event -- a 12:30 pm ET endorsement in Oregon by Governor/superdelegate/former Clinton Cabinet secretary/former candidate Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who provides a handy answer to the he's-not-ready argument (and who resisted the full Clinton press).
Richardson's key line, from the endorsement announcement (news of which broke, for what it's worth, a few minutes after 3 am, prompting different kinds of phone calls): "There is no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama has the judgment and courage we need in a commander in chief when our nation's security is on the line."
This from the e-mail message sent to Richardson supporters in the wee hours: "The 1990's were a decade of peace and prosperity because of the competent and enlightened leadership of the Clinton administration, but it is now time for a new generation of leadership to lead America forward."
"This is a really big deal, and it couldn't come at a better time" for Obama, ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America." "Obama will owe him big."
(And, for better or worse, former senator John Edwards is staying out of the fight.)
- Michigan, by not voting again, breaks Obama's way -- remember that the status quo is very good for him these days. That plus Florida means two very big states that weren't in his column will not, in all likelihood, count for anything in the delegate race.
- The timing of the Clinton library document dump means that reporters are probing Clinton's record (including every crumpet consumed on a foreign trip) at the very time the Clinton campaign wants the focus on Obama's record.
- Surely Obama didn't ask for his private information to be improperly accessed by State Department workers. But how does a story about Bush administration ineptitude (with hints of dirty tricks) not work to his benefit?
- And while his speech this week on that whole little race thing may not have put anything in his rearview mirror, Clinton is struggling for a way to do anything about it (and a picture like this, while pointless, makes it just that much tougher).
The controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright should be, for Clinton, the story that says everything -- it puts Obama in an uncomfortable race box, and the sermon clips speak for themselves.
Yet: "As a matter of strategy, top Clinton allies and advisers said Thursday they were treading carefully when it came to talking about Mr. Wright with superdelegates," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "The difficulty, Clinton advisers and political analysts said, was that a race-based argument against Mr. Obama's electability was unappealing and divisive and cut against the image of the Democratic Party and its principles."
Think it's leaving Clinton a bit uncomfortable? "When Clinton was then asked specifically if her campaign was pushing the Wright story -- she shrugged and took the next question, ignoring the reporter," ABC's Eloise Harper reports. Later, Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway told ABC: "She was and is unaware of anyone on the campaign pushing [the Wright] issue with superdelegates."
As for the long-term implications, "some voters say the revelations about Obama's 20-year relationship with Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ was a deal-breaker for them -- that there is now no way they will vote for Obama," Scott Helman and Sasha Issenberg, reporting from Indiana, write in The Boston Globe. "Others say that it would be wrong to hold Obama accountable for his pastor, or that the black anger Wright has expressed is understandable."
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman writes that Obama's not in the clear: "His full speech text was an appeal to the intellect, but the short-hand version of this affair packs a visceral punch. Some voters will simply reduce it all to a few sentences: Why didn't Obama, upon hearing something vile or hateful, simply get up and walk out? How could Obama stick by a reverend who stands in the pulpit and says 'God damn America?' "
Obama didn't do himself any favors Thursday, speaking about his white grandmother in a Quote We'll Read Again: "She is a typical white person, who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know, well there's a reaction that's in our experiences that won't go away and can sometimes come out in the wrong way. And that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it."
"Obama aides rushed yesterday to clarify the 'typical white person' remark," Michael Saul reports in the New York Daily News. Said Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman: "His intentions may have been misconstrued."
An aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., meanwhile, learns the wrongs and Wrights the hard way: "The campaign of Sen. John McCain suspended an aide Thursday for distributing a YouTube video linking Sen. Barack Obama with his longtime pastor, whose history of intemperate remarks has roiled the presidential campaign in recent days," McClatchy's Matt Stearns reports. "The aide, Soren Dayton, used a personal account on Twitter.com to send a link to the two-and-a-half-minute video."
(Really -- Twitter?)
Poring over Clinton library documents, The Washington Post's Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung write the kind of story the Clinton campaign wants done on Obama. "Clinton's camp has depicted her as a virtual secretary of state, circling the globe to bring peace to troubled lands and open borders for refugees," they write. "Sen. Barack Obama's camp has presented her as a glorified USO officer, entertaining troops and having tea with crown princesses. More than 11,000 pages of her schedules released this week, along with interviews with former diplomats and administration officials, present a more mixed picture."
They continue: "While Clinton's advertisements have boasted that she is best prepared for a 3 a.m. crisis phone call, the schedules contain no evidence that Clinton was at the table during major national security decisions. They do not list her as attending National Security Council meetings or joining briefings in the Situation Room. She did not have a national security clearance. And the documents make clear that at moments of major crisis, Clinton was often busy with her own agenda."
Then there's Michigan, where Obama raised just enough objections to ensure a new vote wouldn't take place.
"The huffing and puffing is over," Dawson Bell writes in the Detroit Free Press. "In the heartless logic of hardball politics, Clinton's embrace of the Michigan do-over primary made it less attractive to Obama."
"Sen. Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidential nomination were deeply wounded by the apparent collapse of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan this week," June Kronholz writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The other big loser may be the Democratic Party."
ABC's Teddy Davis: "Now that the Michigan House and Senate have adjourned without approving a do-over Democratic primary, Clinton's circle of advisers are hoping that an agreement can be reached to hold a party-run mail-in ballot that would not require legislative approval. It's hard, however, to see this approach being adopted."
The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein sees Camp Clinton misplaying this one: "Senator Clinton's campaign may have bungled one of Mrs. Clinton's last opportunities to close the gap with the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Obama," he writes. "The downfall of Mrs. Clinton's strategy may have been that her push for new elections in those states came too late."
And Clinton's backup plan -- winning the popular vote -- will be no easy task. "It's assuming a lot to give Clinton anything but the slimmest of chances to lead in the popular vote," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "It's impossible to project turnout in the 10 states and territories left to vote, but Clinton will have to close a deficit of more than 700,000 votes. That means, even with extremely high turnout estimates, she would have to win by huge, double-digit percentages in the states where she could have an edge -- Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- while holding Obama to tiny gains in states such as North Carolina and Oregon, where he is heavily favored."
On the security breach -- Obama is right to dial up the indignation at a State Department that has an omelet on its face. "Embarrassed officials of the U.S. State Department held a hasty late-night conference call Thursday evening to acknowledge that two employees had been fired and a third disciplined for unauthorized breaches into the personal passport information of Sen. Barack Obama," ABC's Jake Tapper and Kirit Radia report. "The breaches took place as long ago as January, though senior staffers at the department claimed they did not learn about them until Thursday."
Undersecretary of State Patrick F. Kennedy "said that he did not know yet whether any laws were broken or whether the employees shared the information with others," Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post. "He said that the incidents, which occurred at three offices, on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14, should have been 'passed up the line' much sooner and that officials were seeking to determine why they had not been disclosed earlier."
Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama's passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach."
"One administration official said the FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry into the officials involved in the unauthorized access incidents related to Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat," reports Bill Gertz of the Washington Times.
Then there's this Obama advantage, moving forward: "Hillary Rodham Clinton upped the tempo of her fundraising and her spending last month, only to be eclipsed by rival Barack Obama," AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports. "At month's end, with debts of nearly $9 million, her money was nearly spent and he was sitting atop $30 million in available cash."
Obama spent roughly $11 million more than Clinton in February, but still had more money left in his piggybank, and a big edge in cash available for the primaries. "Obama, an Illinois senator, had $39 million in cash, compared with $33 million for Clinton, according to reports filed with the U.S. Federal Election Commission yesterday. At least $20 million of Clinton's war chest can only be used for the general election; Obama has raised less for the post-primary season," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Jonathan Salant report.
Edwards, D-N.C., did Leno Thursday night -- and he didn't pull a Richardson. He's as torn as his party: "In the case of Senator Obama he is inspirational, he gets people excited, he gets young people out who otherwise may not be involved in the process," Edwards said, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson. "Senator Clinton has a toughness and a tenacity and experience that has value. So I think both -- either of them I think will be a great candidate and I think either one will be a great President."
He also said he's been spending his time at home "bush-hogging on his tractor." (Is that all that different than being a Democratic candidate for president?)
And we probe the really burning questions here at ABC, namely what the candidates' brackets tell us about their campaigns. McCain's is "a bracket that falls somewhere between the prudence of Miss Congeniality and the recklessness of a drunken sailor" -- and is perhaps a tad too kind to close friends Mark Salter and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. "He's hardly challenging conventional wisdom (in Washington or beyond), but he's trying to show he knows how the world works."
As for Obama, who predicts a total of six upsets in the 48 games of the first two rounds (and picks Pittsburgh -- attention, Pennsylvania -- as the only non-No. 1 in his Final Four), his bracket is "in short, neither audacious nor hopeful. To Cinderella, it says, 'No, we can't.' . . . And he may have handed Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., a potent electability argument: Can America trust a man who, when he picks up that phone at 3 am, does not select a single 5-12 upset?"
Obama's Oregon events -- particularly the Portland rally with Richardson -- are the biggest items on the Friday schedule. Get details of all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also in the news:
With Richardson weighing in Tuesday, ABC's Nitya Venkataraman rounds up the other Democratic elders who could play a role: "I think it's a combination of a Dean, a Pelosi, a Reid because the House and Senate Democrats have as much at stake as the White House," says Donna Brazile. "We still have George Mitchell around who could referee a boxing match. We have Al Gore, who could weigh in. Jimmy Carter, who could also weigh in."
Until that happens, ABC's Joel Siegel sees the party's divisions revealing themselves online. "The chasm is growing wider by the day, raising alarms among Democrats that it will become more and more difficult to patch things up and unify around the eventual nominee," he writes.
ABC's Ron Claiborne catches up with McCain during the London leg of his occasionally bumpy international trip. "That his whirlwind itinerary resembled that of a president visiting heads of state was hardly accidental," Claiborne reports. "Officially, McCain's overseas trip is a congressional fact-finding mission at taxpayer expense. . . . Unofficially, campaign aides said the international journey was an opportunity for McCain to appear statesmanlike as he confers with world leaders on issues of international importance, including national security and the terrorism."
McCain likes how this sounds . . . "Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are running for president as economic populists, are benefiting handsomely from Wall Street donations, easily surpassing Republican John McCain in campaign contributions from the troubled financial services sector," Janet Hook and Dan Morain write in the Los Angeles Times. "It is part of a broader fundraising shift toward Democrats, compared to past campaigns when Republicans were the favorites of Wall Street."
Until it looks like this: "John McCain has taken a step towards accepting public financing in the general election -- a move that would provide an $84 million infusion for his presidential campaign, but also limit its spending and potentially put him at a steep disadvantage to a better-funded Democratic opponent," Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel writes.
The Campaign for America's Future has some (French) fun with McCain on the Airbus/Boeing controversy.
Is this the Rush registration rush? "Since the beginning of the year, 57,651 [Pennsylvania] residents who were already registered voters -- either Republicans, independents, or in any other party -- switched to become Democrats. In contrast, only 10,754 already-registered voters filed party-change applications to become Republicans.
The retirement of Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., is another marking point in the dissolution of a dynasty: it "means that five of the top six members of GOP leadership in the 109th Congress won't be in office when the 111th Congress convenes next January," per ABC News.
"His decision also was another blow to Republican chances against Democrats, who appear likely to widen their majority with more than two dozen GOP seats coming open this year," Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post. "Demoralized, underfinanced and facing a criminal investigation of their campaign committee's former treasurer, 29 House Republicans have announced in the past year they will not run for reelection, have decided to seek another office or have simply quit midterm."
The books aren't closed just yet on former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's presidential bid. "Campaign finance forms filed Thursday show the former mayor -- who often touted his fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail -- has $3.1 million in unpaid debts left over from his failed presidential bid," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "Giuliani officially ended his presidential bid on Jan. 30, having raised and spent more than $63 million to secure just one delegate."
Contrast that with Rep. Ron Paul's campaign: "He reported having raised $34.65 million since he launched his (get ready, Paulunteers) long-shot White House bid last year. Paul reported spending about $29 million as of Feb. 29. And he reported having an impressive $5.57 million cash left in the bank," Andrew Malcolm writes in his Los Angeles Times blog. "Now, get this: The Ron Paul presidential campaign reported no debts. Not a dollar. Not even a penny."
"To equate what I said with what this racist bigot has said from the pulpit is unbelievable." -- Geraldine Ferraro, going back to the Daily Breeze to calm herself down.
"Urgent indeed -- a picture -- oooooooo!" -- Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson, offering just enough O's to make this among the best responses to a silly development in the whole length of this campaign cycle.
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