Amid the delegate count and the popular vote, campaign debts and wounded egos, the biggest single obstacle facing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign is fatigue.
There's fatigue for her and her staff, as a race that was supposed be over two months ago marches wearily forward with no end in sight.
There's fatigue with the Clintons, the Obama-fueling sense of being ready to move on from a first family of Democratic politics that's been less than perfect as a steward of party fortunes.
There's fatigue with the campaign as a whole -- a sentiment that may be spilling into polls and (more importantly) could have a corrosive effect on superdelegates.
And there's fatigue of messaging, as a campaign that's consistently trailed in efforts to inspire voters looks for a way to make the race about something big -- anything to change the discussion in this non-voting interregnum that's looking like a slow, painful bleed.
Those were jokes, of course (and it's good to know she's got the energy to run up those steps), but consider this: Clinton's serious argument for staying in the race when she's down for good in the delegate count is, at bottom, about votes for voting's sake.
"The last time that we were told we'd better cut the process short or the sky would fall was when the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount in 2000," Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams wrote in a memo released Tuesday. "But Chicken Little was wrong. What was true then is true now: there is nothing to fear -- and everything to gain – from hearing from all of the voters."
Invoking Florida is "a ratcheting-up of rhetoric in the ongoing debate over whether the New York Senator's candidacy is hindering Democrats' chances of winning back the White House," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes.
"Choosing to compare the pressure Clinton is coming under to end her candidacy with the pressure on Gore to do the same in 2000 is sure to inflame the passions -- for good and for ill."
"In fact, they're the ones who need the imperfect, undemocratic system -- the superdelegates -- to bail them out," Slate's Christopher Beam writes. "Unless superdelegates push Clinton up and over Obama's inevitable pledged delegate lead, she can't win. . . . So really, if the 2008 Democratic primaries are the 2000 Florida debacle, then Clinton is Bush."
"It seems as if the Clinton strategy is to focus the campaign on campaigning," Steve Benen writes at the Carpetbagger Report.
"Given the microphone, Clinton is using it to talk about how important it is that she keep getting the microphone. . . . But that's not a compelling campaign pitch; in fact, it's hardly a pitch at all. There's no reason to keep talking about why the race should continue; the race is continuing by virtue of Clinton's ongoing efforts."
Yes, Rocky got up the stairs of the Art Museum in Philadelphia, but -- as ABC's Jake Tapper (a Philly boy) reminds us -- "Rocky lost." (Also, recall for us again who the champ was at the beginning of this movie? That's not even mentioning the progressively worse Stallone efforts that were the five sequels. . . . )
It turns out that former President Bill Clinton wasn't quite as chill as he wanted everyone else to be at California's Democratic Party convention. "Before his speech Clinton had one of his famous meltdowns Sunday, blasting away at former presidential contender Bill Richardson for having endorsed Obama, the media and the entire nomination process," Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
At a private meeting that included superdelegates, Clinton "went on a tirade that ran from the media's unfair treatment of Hillary to questions about the fairness of the votes in state caucuses that voted for Obama," Matier and Ross write. "It ended with him asking delegates to imagine what the reaction would be if Obama was trailing by just 1 percent and people were telling him to drop out."
He had special anger reserved for Richardson, and it gets a little more personal on Wednesday: Inside the New Mexico governor's pushback at James Carville (who called him "Judas" for his endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama) is a broader argument that he's not the only Democrat to make -- but one of the few to make this publicly.
"It is this kind of political venom that I anticipated from certain Clinton supporters and I campaigned against in my own run for president," Richardson writes in a Washington Post op-ed, adding that the discussion was "heated" when he told Sen. Clinton of his decision. (We can imagine.)
"I can only say that we need to move on from the politics of personal insult and attacks," Richardson continues. "That era, personified by Carville and his ilk, has passed and I believe we must end the rancor and partisanship that has mired Washington in gridlock. In my view, Sen. Obama represents our best hope of replacing division with unity."
A new endorsement for Obama makes Clinton's argument against him just a little bit tougher. "He comes across to me as pragmatic, visionary and tough," Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission (and a former House member from Indiana), tells Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman.
The deep desire for resolution is behind the party's discontent with its chairman, Howard Dean, who is either incapable or unwilling (or very possibly both) to push the nominating process toward an end.
"It is not clear that Mr. Dean has the political skills or the stature with the two campaigns to bring the nominating battle to a relatively quick and unifying conclusion," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "Senior officials in both campaigns said they had heard rarely from Mr. Dean on matters like the tone of the contest and how it might be concluded and what to do about the Michigan and Florida delegates, the subject of a bitter and potentially debilitating debate between the Clinton and Obama campaigns."
If he's working it privately, he's doing a good job of keeping it private. But he won't quiet the criticism of his leadership with anything he told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, on the role of superdelegates: "They should use whatever yardstick they want," Dean said in an interview with the Times' Mark Z. Barabak. "That's what the rules say, and I enforce the rules."
And this: "There's no power in the DNC to make people do things that the rules don't prescribe."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., likes Dean's idea of having superdelegates make up their minds before July 1, per Roll Call's Erin P. Billings and Jennifer Bendery.
But how to get there? Dean is giving Gov. Phil Bredesen's, D-Tenn., proposal for a "superdelegate convention" a thumbs-down: "We can't have a convention of super delegates because it would look like 330 delegates are overriding the wishes of 30 million voters," Dean told USA Today's Fredreka Schouten.
(Will it look that much better if it happens in Denver, with 2,024 delegates instead? Does the good doctor have a different prescription in mind?)
(And as a nice counterpoint to the DNC's role these days, don't miss what the RNC has done to defuse the "100 years" remark in the matter of a few days. Anyone doubt that the Republicans are oppo-armed for battle?)
There's nothing in DNC rules that prevent this, either, but it's a dangerous game: "Senior Hillary adviser Harold Ickes confirmed that Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a key topic in discussions with uncommitted super-delegates over whether Obama is electable in a general election," Greg Sargent reports at Talking Points Memo.
Said Ickes: "I tell people that they need to look at what they think Republicans may use against him. Wright comes up in the conversations."
And this -- differing oh-so-slightly from the standard Bill Clinton appeared to lay out last month: "I think being ahead in the popular vote is an important factor. I don't think it's dispositive . . . if at the end of the process she's running very slightly behind in the delegates overall, the popular vote vote will be important. I don't think it's absolutely critical."
(The New York Sun's Russell Berman catches up with the Rev. Edward Matthews -- an Arkansas clergyman Berman calls "the closest Senator Clinton has to a pastor of her own." Matthews is willing to cut Wright some slack: Many pastors, he said, say things "that if we had to say it over again we probably wouldn't say it in the same way.")
The DNC does, at least, has the semblance of a contingency plan for a contested convention: "The headquarters hotel -- the Hyatt Regency at the Convention Center -- will also house the Democratic nominee -- and if both Clinton and Obama and their staffs and travel press all show up 'arrangements' will be made to take care of both," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Maureen Dowd sees Clinton making Obama a better champ: "The ultimate favor Hillary can do for the Illinois freshman is to fight him full-out until the finale and then gracefully release him so he can find happiness with another," she writes in her New York Times column. "Hillary's work is done only when she is done, because the best way for Obama to prove he's ready to stare down Ahmadinejad is by putting away someone even tougher."
While the Clinton campaign wallows in debt, the Obama campaign is swimming in cash. In March, Obama again topped $1 million a day: "The number starts with a three and we are still counting. It's in the 30s," a campaign official tells Time's Michael Duffy and Michael Weisskopf. They write: "One Clinton campaign adviser hinted that the New York senator's total for the month will come close to $20 million."
Fresh off of Letterman's couch, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday morning that he's "begun getting together a list of names to choose a vice presidential running mate," per the AP's David Espo.
No details, but he tells radio host Don Imus: "I'd like to get it done as early as possible. I'm aware of enhanced importance of this issue given my age."
McCain continues his "Service to America" tour on Wednesday with a speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. From the speech: "The most important lesson I learned here was that to sustain my self-respect for a lifetime it would be necessary for me to have the honor of serving something greater than my self-interest."
If you miss the speeches, no matter -- "simply buy the book," ABC's John Berman reports. He's borrowing heavily (and often verbatim) from his memoir, with Mark Salter's words still golden.
"If you are going to essentially read aloud from a book, 'Faith of My Fathers' is a great book to read from," Berman writes. "But given that it is 9 years since he and Mr. Salter first wrote the words he is now reading, it might show the difficulty McCain has in capitalizing on his rich biography."
It's still not clear what McCain's tour is getting him -- or even if something like this would be happening if he wasn't looking for a way to fill the weeks these days.
But for a candidate with a clear shot, he's sure got a lot on his plate to clean up. "John McCain faces a problem as he tries to close a deep fund-raising deficit against the two Democratic candidates for president: Both have been cleaning his clock among business interests that give mainly to Republicans," Brody Mullins reports in The Wall Street Journal. "Of seven major industries that have been the most reliable Republican resources, Sen. McCain has beaten Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama in only one, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics."
Clinton and Obama can agree on enough to team up in attacking McCain. The Democrats "took aim yesterday at Republican John McCain, with Clinton talking about the economy and Obama focusing on the war in Iraq," Larry Eichel and Thomas Fitzgerald write in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "In a speech to the state AFL-CIO convention in Center City, Clinton accused the presumptive Republican nominee of proving every day that he does not know how to address the needs of the middle class."
The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman reports that Democrats have their sites trained on two top McCain advisers in particular: former senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Carly Fiorina, who was pushed out of her job as Hewlett-Packard's CEO after a controversial merger. "I, for one, have thought about it a lot," one McCain adviser told Weisman. "And that's all I will say."
And -- RNC efforts notwithstanding -- the McCain's "100 years" remark isn't disappearing from campaign rhetoric, Brian Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. "Almost daily, Democrats hammer John McCain for supporting a 100-year war in Iraq, putting their spin on McCain's answer months ago to a voter in New Hampshire to draw the starkest distinction possible on one of the defining issues of this year's presidential election," Mooney writes.
The Democrats campaign in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, with Clinton set to unveil a new economic development package. And here's an event to make sure the cameras are rolling at: Michelle Obama and Teresa Heinz Kerry are set to share a stage in Pittsburgh, at 2:15 pm ET.
Bill Clinton is in Indiana on Wednesday, where Obama will be on Friday. Obama will campaign in Muncie on the 40th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. "Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who in 1968 was campaigning for president, was in Muncie when he learned that King was dead," the Indianapolis Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports.
McCain's biographical tour continues with stops in Annapolis, Md., and Pensacola, Fla., on Wednesday. Get details of all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also in the news:
Sen. Reid had to point out that it was no April Fools' joke: Real bipartisan progress on a housing bill, with lawmakers working overnight to get a bill finished by noon on Wednesday. "Under pressure from voters to address the nation's housing crisis, Senate Republicans agreed yesterday to work with Democrats on a compromise plan to stimulate sagging home sales and help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure," Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post.
"The new pledge of cooperation was the latest sign of fast-growing consensus among Congress, the Bush administration and financial regulators that broader government action was needed to prevent a torrent of new foreclosures and further collapse of the housing and residential mortgage markets," David M. Herszenhorn and Vikas Bajaj report in The New York Times.
ABC's Marcus Baram gets the scoop on the soon-to-be-filmed Oliver Stone movie "W," starring Josh Brolin as President Bush. Great details from the script: "The first scene, in which Bush and his advisers brainstorm different terms to describe their global enemies, from 'Axis of Hatred' to 'Axis of Unbearably Odious,' is followed by an early glimpse of the hard-drinking young man when he was a college student at Yale," Baram writes.
"Drinking vodka mixed with orange juice out of a trash can at the DKE frat house, Bush impresses the fraternity leader with his ability to memorize the names of his fellow pledges."
In Pennsylvania, the battle for white men is on: "The biggest prey this primary season, discussed in countless political dispatches and talk shows, is hiding in plain sight," Timothy McNulty writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The species is described -- depending on who's talking -- as either traditional or old-fashioned, proud or angry, straight-talking or racist/sexist. It is rough-hewn. It is gritty. It is a walking, talking cliche. It is Pennsylvania's voting-age white male and he may be none of the above, but rather as varied and hard to pin down as all 3.86 million of them statewide."
ABC's Jake Tapper gave the presidential pork rundown for fiscal 2008 on Wednesday's "Good Morning America." The tally: Clinton secured 281 earmarks, worth $296.2 million; Obama 53 earmarks worth $97.4 million; McCain has never asked for an earmark. Congress' total haul, per Citizens Against Government Waste's annual "pork book": 11,610 projects -- the second-highest number ever -- worth $17.2 billion.
Five years after it was issued, and four years after it was rescinded . . . "The Pentagon made public a now-defunct legal memo that approved the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terror suspects, saying that President Bush's wartime authority trumps any international ban on torture," the AP's Lara Jakes Jordan reports. "The memo also offered a defense in case any interrogator was charged with violating U.S. or international laws."
ABC's Philadelphia debate is set for April 16, and another debate could be on tap before we're through. Per the Indianapolis Star: "The Indiana Debate Commission, formed last year, has asked Clinton and Obama to meet in a nationally televised debate in Indiana sometime between Pennsylvania's primary on April 22 and Indiana's on May 6."
As we all grow a little too expert on the intricacies of credentials committees, Donna Brazile corrects an error on the committee's makeup.
A new bookmark from a new group: www.patriotmajoritytoday.com, a "news and information source for Americans who want our country to move in a new direction -- now, not in the next 100 years."
"He looks like the guy who can't stop talking about how well his tomatoes are doing. He looks like the guy who goes into town for turpentine. He looks like the guy who always has wiry hair growing out of new places. He looks like the guy who points out the spots they missed at the car wash." -- David Letterman, unfurling the whole collection of insults at John McCain.
"You look like a guy caught smuggling reptiles in his pants." -- McCain, in response.
"You have to look at the pins when you throw it." -- 10-year-old Gabriella Lamas, to the New York Daily News, offering some bowling tips for Barack Obama after outscoring him, 47-37, in her most recent outing.
"I know I'll love it because, clean air, clean water and many, many, many mountains." -- Hal James Styles Jr., a Republican who's running for Sen. Larry Craig's Senate seat in Idaho despite the fact that he's never actually been to the state of Idaho.
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1