The Note: Hope Against Hope

Math, it turns out, is as stubborn as the Clintons themselves.

The superdelegates are moving (and suddenly not so super-slowly) in Obama's direction. (Which of these drips will trigger the flood?)

Wright was wrong for Sen. Barack Obama, but not wrong enough, evidently. (We look forward to hearing from the Clinton campaign why polls once again don't matter.)

Campaign debts are piling up faster than Bill Clinton and James Carville can pile on homespun expressions.

And Sen. John McCain can enjoy the show, his ticket punched and his image his own as he defines himself and the race in a way the Democrats can't.

It is, naturally, set up just as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants it. (Just ask Camp Clinton -- always sure she can go all the way, even when it isn't Opening Day.)

The Clinton line this Monday: This is a candidate who's performed best when she's counted out. In this pause in the voting action, she's staying strong in polls in the next round of states, weathering calls to step aside -- and using them as rallying cries/organizing tools.

All of which could matter quite a bit if this was still a traditional race, wielded over that quaint quantity known as voters.

But the current Clinton calculus states that a race for delegates is not about the delegates anymore, a contest for votes is maybe not about the popular vote. (And some of her wins are turning out not to really be wins).

And there's a fair chance she'll have to destroy the Democratic Party in her quest to save it. At this critical juncture, Clinton is choosing confrontation over conciliation.

It's one reason that the superdelegate gap is narrowing by the day (the Obama campaign's impressive discipline in rolling out endorsements is the other). Joining Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., on the Obama bandwagon is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and the entire seven-member North Carolina Democratic House delegation is set to endorse Obama as well, Jackie Calmes reports in The Wall Street Journal.

"Slowly but steadily, a string of Democratic Party figures is taking Barack Obama's side in the presidential nominating race and raising the pressure on Hillary Clinton to give up," Calmes writes. Among Clinton's difficulties: "Even raising the prospect of a convention fight could backfire for Sen. Clinton by antagonizing the superdelegates she needs. Many superdelegates are on the ballot themselves this year, and the last thing they want is a chaotic convention that plays into the hands of Republicans."

(The latest endorsements make for a 64-9 Obama superdelegate advantage since Super Tuesday, Diane Sawyer reported on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday.)

For a hint as to why, pause to consider the full implications of what Clinton is saying with her promise to march forward through Denver:

"I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan," Clinton told Perry Bacon Jr. and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post, offering a whole of "ands." "And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention -- that's what credentials committees are for."

(Just for fun, try to find five uncommitted superdelegates who are looking forward to a credentials fight at the party's quadrennial televised showcase. The only way long movies work is with happy endings; "Gigli" clocked in at a squirm-inducing 121 minutes.)

Former President Bill Clinton may want superdelegates to "chill out," but it's the frosty campaign being waged by his wife and her rival that has Democrats anxious.

Obama, D-Ill., doesn't need to apply pressure that's building from within.

Gauge the prevalence of this sentiment inside the party and you may have a good read on where to find the party's endgame: "This thing has turned from being an adventure to being a grind," Democratic strategist Bob Shrum tells the Los Angeles Times.

Fortunately for Clinton, Nora Ephron isn't a superdelegate. "It's turned into an unending last episode of Survivor," she writes for HuffingtonPost. "They're eating rats and they're frying bugs, and they're frying rats and they're eating bugs; no one is ever going to get off the island and I can't take it any more."

Now that the saga of Rev. Jeremiah Wright has played out, we'll see if this inspires a Mark Penn memo: "Barack Obama has extended his lead over Hillary Clinton among Democrats nationally to 52% to 42%, the third consecutive Gallup Poll Daily tracking report in which he has held a statistically significant lead, and Obama's largest lead of the year so far. . . . This marks the first time either candidate has held a double-digit lead over the other since Feb. 4-6, at which point Clinton led Obama by 11 percentage points."

"For all their delight in soaring voter registration and strong poll numbers, some Democrats fear the contest between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton might have a nightmarish end, which could wreck a promising election year," the AP's Chuck Babington writes.

If Clinton wins a few more contests, Babington writes, "Party leaders then would face a wrenching choice: Steer the nomination to a fading Obama, even as signs suggested Clinton could be the stronger candidate in November; or go with the surging Clinton and risk infuriating Obama's supporters, especially blacks, the Democratic Party's most loyal base."

By vowing to fight for Florida and Michigan all the way to the convention, Clinton is "deliberately setting up a train wreck, hoping that by credibly committing to the idea that she's happy to sink the party's fortunes in FL and MI if she doesn't get her way, she can thereby get her way," Matthew Yglesias writes in his Atlantic blog. "Basically, it's the same old kind of threats you saw with her big dollar fundraisers -- either the Democratic Party needs to serve the narrow needs of the Clinton family, or else the Clinton family will do their best to hobble the party."

And so: "Despite Bill Clinton's saying it was 'a bunch of bull' that his wife should drop out, Democrats are trying to sneak up on Hillary, throw a burlap sack over her head, carry her off the field and stick her in a Saddam spider hole until after the Denver convention," Maureen Dowd writes in her Sunday New York Times op-ed. "One Obama adviser moaned that the race was "beginning to feel like a hostage crisis" and would probably go on for another month to six weeks."

Yet tell this to senators Patrick Leahy and Bob Casey: "But it is always when Hillary is pushed back by the boys that women help hoist her up," Dowd writes. Can the nightmare still produce the dream ticket? That's what Mario Cuomo wants, (though he's silent on who gets the honor and privilege of serving as understudy to a onetime rival) and he's not alone.

"I can't speak for Senator Clinton, but I would love that," Clinton supporter Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Obama supporter Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., wants it resolved quickly: "As a former nominee, I will tell you, this time right now is critical to us. We began four years behind George Bush, and I think every day does give John McCain an ability to organize nationally." One nugget that should not be overlooked: consensus, he predicted, will "occur over these next weeks."

Karl Rove is surely smiling as he produces his campaign manager's guide to a brokered convention, in his Newsweek column: "If you set the rules, decide who votes, organize the event and control what is said, it's almost impossible to lose," Rove writes.

"By now your campaign should have a massive set of binders with information on every delegate -- their birthday, pet peeves, hobbies and interests. If not, get them started," he continues. "Have whips for state delegations and deputy whips for groups within each delegation. Have them live, eat, drink and socialize with their charges. . . . In addition, save some surprises -- and hold back some votes."

Clinton's Rovian figure? Harold Ickes, who gets a Los Angeles Times profile Monday. "Aggressive, profane, openly scornful of rivals, Ickes rules Clinton's superdelegate operation with an intimidating style and a mythic persona," the Times' Peter Nicholas writes. Says Obama backer Dick Harpootlian: "He's like a shadow. You hear he's here, you hear he's there, but you never actually see him."

Her path back into contention: It starts in Pennsylvania. Gov. Rendell calibrated expectations on "GMA" Monday, saying Clinton's lead in the Keystone State is "going to shrink." But, said Rendell, a victory there, followed by wins in Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico, and then: "Gosh, what more does she have to do to show that she's going to be the strongest candidate in the fall? And that's what the superdelegates are worried about."

"In the end, the key to winning is not the number of votes but the efficacy of a candidate's political campaign," Andrew Gumbel writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. "If the Clinton camp can create the perception that voters from the early primaries are now suffering buyers' remorse, and that the party's grass-roots supporters want her after all, she still has a chance."

It is this Democratic backdrop that McCain, R-Ariz., enjoys for his introductory tour this week. His first stop is Meridien, Miss., near the local airfield that's named for his grandfather.

From his Monday speech, per the McCain campaign: "The family I was born to, and the family I am blessed with now, made me the man I am, and instilled in me a deep and abiding respect for the social institution that wields the greatest influence in the formation of our individual character and the character of our society."

On the role of government: "Government must be attentive to the impact of its policies on families so that it does not through inattention or arrogance make it harder for parents to have the resources to succeed in the greatest work of their lives -- raising their children. And where government has a role to play, in education, in combating the threats to the security and happiness of children from online predators, in helping to make health care affordable and accessible."

McCain's biographical tour "will underscore how war dominates his world view," Bloomberg's Edwin Chen writes. "Building his campaign around his military background may be risky for McCain, particularly if the economy -- which he has acknowledged isn't his long suit -- takes center stage among voters' concerns." It is, though, a clear shot: "While Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battle for their party's nomination, Arizona Sen. McCain has the luxury of spending the week re-introducing himself to the American people," Reuters' Steve Holland writes.

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh encapsulates the overriding McCain message: "McCain seemed to be saying that while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tear each other to pieces, I'm going to be the wise and welcoming statesman patching up America's global relations even before I get to the Oval Office," he writes.

"There's just one problem: John McCain doesn't always behave according to his own statesmanlike script."

McCain is building in some fundraising time around his tour. Per The New York Times' Michael Luo and Griff Palmer, he "has yet to sign up one critical constituency: the big-money people who powered the Bush fund-raising machine. . . . Even though he all but secured the Republican nomination by mid-February, Mr. McCain has so far managed to enlist only a fraction of the heavyweight bundlers of campaign contributions who helped drive President Bush's two runs for the White House, an examination of Mr. McCain's fund-raising network shows."

The Washington Post's Paul Kane documents the one and only time McCain and Obama tried to team up in a serious way, on lobbying and ethics reform: "What began as a promising collaboration between two men bent on burnishing their reformist credentials collapsed after barely a week. The McCain-Obama relationship came undone amid charges and countercharges. . . . Obama questioned whether McCain sided with GOP leaders rather than searching for a bipartisan solution; McCain accused Obama of 'typical rhetorical gloss' and 'self interested partisan posturing' by a newcomer seeking to ingratiate himself with party leaders."

The senior senator gets the last word: "Please be assured I won't make the same mistake again," McCain wrote Obama on Feb. 6, 2006. We leave you with this vintage Mark Salter line: "I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me . . . were sincere," the letter said.

Al Gore said on "60 Minutes" Sunday that he's staying out of the nomination fight. His energies are instead turning to the launch of "a three-year, $300 million campaign Wednesday aimed at mobilizing Americans to push for aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a move that ranks as one of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history," Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post.

"The new effort comes at a time when the three remaining major party presidential candidates -- Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- have all endorsed federal limits on greenhouse gases, virtually ensuring that the next occupant of the White House will offer a sharp break from President Bush's climate policy," Eilperin writes.

Per Eilperin, one of the first ads will feature Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton as beach buddies. Politico's Mike Allen reports that the next set of strange bedfellows will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and one of her predecessors: Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

Check out the Aussies for some fun: "DESPERATE senior Democrats are said to be actively discussing plans for Al Gore to take the presidential nomination to stop the bitterly divided party falling apart," reports the Melbourne Daily Sun. "Two former Gore campaign officials told the Sunday Telegraph that a scenario first mapped out by members of Mr Gore's inner circle last May now had a sporting chance of coming true."

President Bush heads to Europe on Monday: The president will "try to rescue the faltering mission in Afghanistan, and key NATO allies plan to meet his demands for more forces with modest troop increases, though not by as much as U.S. military officers say is needed to put down a stubborn Taliban insurgency," Peter Baker and Ann Scott Tyson report in The Washington Post. "The summit in Bucharest, Romania, which begins Wednesday, will also test the allies over issues such as NATO enlargement, missile defense and the relationship with an increasingly muscular Russia."

As McCain starts his bio tour, Clinton and Obama both work Pennsylvania on Monday, with Obama continuing his six-day bus tour.

Also in the news:

Clinton would like to change a few more minds on the order of Richard Mellon Scaife. His turnaround was revealed in a Sunday column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Walking into our conference room, not knowing what to expect (or even, perhaps, expecting the worst), took courage and confidence. Not many politicians have political or personal courage today, so it was refreshing to see her exhibit both. Sen. Clinton also exhibited an impressive command of many of today's most pressing domestic and international issues. Her answers were thoughtful, well-stated, and often dead-on."

ABC's Jake Tapper notes that this is not your typical reversal: "Scaife's disagreements with the Clintons were hardly policy-based. He funded major investigations of the former president's personal life, and attempted to give credibility to the wildest theories about the Clintons' nefariousness."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Larry Eichel reports from the Obama bus tour: "After two days of visiting sports bars and steel plants and bowling badly, Barack Obama yesterday got back to what he does best. He held a mass rally in a college town," Eichel writes. "The trip -- which has been heavy on low-key, retail politics -- is central to his attempt, three weeks in advance of the April 22 primary, to start eating into Hillary Rodham Clinton's double-digit lead in the polls."

The Chicago Tribune's Jim Tankersley has a look at Clinton's source of appeal among blue-collar voters. Key insight: "On several scales of 'readability,' which measure the level of education needed to understand a piece of writing, a sample of Clinton's speeches scored on average two grade levels below Obama's," Tankersley writes. "Typically, he speaks the language of high school seniors or college freshmen. She speaks the language of high-school sophomores or juniors -- the language of the least-educated, lowest-earning voters."

What happened to NAFTA? "As they traveled through Pennsylvania last week, neither Clinton nor her opponent, Barack Obama, once mentioned the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a frequent bugaboo in their Ohio politicking - and refrained from a prolonged discussion of trade issues altogether," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"As the Democrats enter a 10-state closing stretch in which economic concerns are likely to dominate the debate, Clinton and Obama - who both gave speeches on the subject last week, as did John McCain - are expanding beyond their past populist appeals and using a broader language that can address different experiences of economic change."

Clinton is talking NAFTA in Indiana, claiming Friday that she "spoke out against it starting in 1992," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

Per Tapper, "Clinton campaign communications director Howard Wolfson says that Clinton argued against supporting NAFTA internally on the 1992 campaign before then-Gov. Bill Clinton decided to support it. Would you consider that to be 'speaking out against it'?"

The Honolulu Advertiser profiles Obama's white grandmother, 85-year-old Madelyn Dunham, known mostly now for her starring role in Obama's race speech -- his Obama's example of white prejudices.

"The white grandmother of Barack Obama blazed a trail for women in Honolulu's banking circles in the 1960s and 1970s as her grandson grew up surrounded by racial insensitivity," the Advertiser's Dan Nakaso writes. "Several current and former Bank of Hawaii executives -- some of whom were mentored by Dunham and knew her after she retired -- said they were stunned by Obama's comments about his grandmother."

While we're exploring family history, The Boston Globe's Scott Helman had an interesting Sunday look at "the linchpin of Barack Obama's presidential campaign": Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson.

"A steely 70-year-old matriarch with a raspy voice and seen-it-all laugh, Robinson manages the family while Obama and his wife, Michelle, venture to the far reaches of the campaign trail. Amid the daily chaos of the marathon primary campaign, it often falls to Michelle's mother to keep the Obamas' two daughters -- Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6 - grounded, not to mention fed, bathed, and in bed by 8:30 p.m."

Robinson's fried-chicken recipe revealed (feel free to dissect for electoral hints -- though it does sound more Clinton than Obama): "Her secrets: using crumbled Ritz crackers in the batter, bathing the chicken pieces in ice water before frying ('that makes it crispier'), adding salt liberally, and using lots of oil.' "

If you thought the Texas caucuses were great fun, you really enjoyed those cohesive and orderly regional conventions from over the weekend. "Traffic jams, long lines, crowds, confusion and chaos marked Texas Democratic regional conventions Saturday," R.G. Ratcliffe writes in the Houston Chronicle.

"Obama's campaign late Saturday said he would win, claiming he would receive 38 delegates to Clinton's 29. Clinton's campaign says Obama should wait for the official results before declaring victory. If the Obama campaign prediction is accurate, that would give Obama a total five-delegate advantage over Clinton in the Texas primary/caucus contest."

But, per the latest from the AP: "The contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for Texas delegates appeared to be tightening, as counting from Saturday's caucuses dragged on into Sunday." The Kennedy story was, quite literally, too good to be true. "Contrary to Obama's claims in speeches in January at American University and in Selma last year, the Kennedy family did not provide the funding for a September 1959 airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States that included Obama's father," Michael Dobbs writes in the Sunday Washington Post.

"According to historical records and interviews with participants, the Kennedys were first approached for support for the program nearly a year later, in July 1960."

The New York Sun's Eli Lake looks for "Obamacans": "They are against continuing the Iraq war and reject what they see as Mr. Bush's unconstitutional buildup of executive power. While the conservative Republican base rejected Senator McCain in the early primaries for his push for bipartisan campaign finance regulation and amnesty for illegal immigrants, the Arizona senator's hawkish support for the Iraq war has alienated what was once his national constituency, anti-Bush Republicans."

Housing policy is in the Washington news: "In a sweeping proposal circulated over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson slaughtered a number of Washington's sacred cows, proposing to merge or eliminate institutions of long standing including the Securities and Exchange Commission, and to create a controversial new role of supercop for the Federal Reserve," per The Wall Street Journal.

"Mr. Paulson will formally outline the plan -- originally undertaken last spring to streamline bureaucracy, not respond to the current credit crisis -- on Monday."

And HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is expected to resign Monday at a 10 am ET news conference, "a decision that will deal a blow to the Bush administration's efforts to tackle the housing crisis," The Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta and Michael M. Phillips report. "Mr. Jackson, a former top housing official in Texas, Washington, D.C., and Missouri, has consistently denied any improper behavior while leading HUD. Still, his poor relationship with Democrats has hurt the White House's efforts to broker deals in response to the housing crisis."

On that subject -- an interesting weekend take from Bloomberg's Lorraine Woellert and Matthew Benjamin: "Barack Obama, who has been a step behind rival Hillary Clinton in proposing remedies to the housing and financial crises, jumped ahead of her this week by advocating broader regulation of Wall Street. Obama called for the Federal Reserve to be given greater supervisory power when it acts as lender of last resort. He also urged stronger capital requirements for financial companies and a consolidation of regulatory agencies."

And a take on McCain: "Two of his top advisers were recently lobbyists for a notorious lender in the mortgage meltdown," David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News. "John Green, the senator's chief liaison to Congress, and Wayne Berman, his national finance co-chairman, billed more than $720,000 in lobbying fees from 2005 through last year to Ameriquest Mortgage through their lobbying firm, disclosure forms reviewed by the Daily News show."

President Bush threw out the first pitch Sunday night at brand-new National Park, a 3-2 win for the home team powered by a walk-off Ryan Zimmerman homer. From the pool report, filed by Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman: "It seemed there were more cheers than boos, but not by much. [The president] walked quickly to the mound and almost immediately, with a high delivery, threw a high fastball that would have been a ball to anyone other than Yao Ming."

The kicker:

"I haven't gotten wine. I haven't gotten cookies. I haven't gotten anything, no calls. I am one of the loneliest superdelegates in the nation." -- California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, a superdelegate who must remain neutral until the convention under party rules.

"My economic plan is better than my bowling." -- Barack Obama, after drawing cheers by finally snaring a spare in the seventh frame, per the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning. Responded one bystander: "It has to be."

"It's a strange turn of the road when I find, among the candidates running this year, that the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, the John F. Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain." -- Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., on ABC's "This Week," continuing the strangest turn in politics this decade.

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