If you can place the following items in ascending order, you just might win yourself a photograph with Sen. Barack Obama (or maybe not):
- The number of people who are really on Sen. John McCain's short list.
- The number of points Sen. Hillary Clinton needs to win Pennsylvania by for it to be a "win."
- The number of superdelegates who will declare their allegiance before April 22.
- The number of words Michelle Obama and Teresa Heinz Kerry would speak to each other if not for this campaign that provided them a stage to share Wednesday.
- The number of "Rocky" references we'll hear before Philadelphians render a judgment (and we thought the number of sequels was interminable).
In case you thought there was any room left for subtlety in the race, ABC's George Stephanopoulos confirms the whispers: The Clinton message on Obama (the one that counts -- the one to superdelegates) is clear, harsh, and pretty close to irrevocable.
Stephanopoulos reported on "World News" Wednesday that Sen. Clinton told Gov. Bill Richardson flatly, "Barack Obama cannot win, Bill. Barack Obama cannot win.' "
Yet here's a wrinkle, from a source with direct knowledge of Richardson's conversations with the Clintons: Richardson himself told Sen. Clinton and former President Clinton that he didn't think Obama could win, back when he was (according to the Clintons) telling them earlier this year that he wouldn't endorse Obama. "Too inexperienced," Richardson said, the source tells ABC News.
(We should see what the March fundraising numbers have to say on this subject on Thursday.)
Clinton is taking a (much-needed) break from Obama-bashing to train her fire on McCain, her campaign recalling that her audience remains, primarily, Democrats who may grow weary of another few months of party self-destruction.
So now Clinton is dialing up McCain -- and yes, it's always 3 am in this world. "John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis, he'd let the phone keep ringing," the new ad says.
Over at Camp Clinton, 3 am is their favorite time of day or night -- not just because they're generally still awake at that hour (sleep being the right and property of the frontrunner) but because that ringing phone reinforces her core message: She's ready.
"Could it be that the Clinton camp and the Obama camp have reached an understanding that further fire at each other will only damage the party?" The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye writes. "Is there a temporary cease-fire while they work out the status of delegates from Michigan and Florida?"
No, and no. But: "The new spot, which is the first Democratic ad to mention McCain by name, does advance two of her objectives: it keeps the focus on the economy and it allows her to tout her general-election strength in key battleground states," ABC's Teddy Davis, Talal Al-Khatib, and Jan Simmonds report.
"Clinton's decision to target McCain indicates how the Democratic candidates may be toning down their attacks on one another so as not to weaken the party ahead of the November general election," Maeve Reston and Noam Levey write in the Los Angeles Times. "But Clinton aides said the ad also reinforced their argument that the senator from New York is more electable than the senator from Illinois."