The Note: Storm Before the Calm

Is it just possible that, while we've been waiting for the superdelegate dam to break (and will those Clinton tax returns do more to chip it away or build it up?) maybe we should have been paying attention to the leaks.

It hasn't happened all at once, yet even without a vote being cast, every passing day is making it harder for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to catch up (and money is just the least of her problems).

She may or may not be flat-out calling Sen. Barack Obama unelectable (not all denials are created equal) but that argument is not holding sway with the only audience that really matters anymore.

For the lay of the land, ask former President Jimmy Carter, or Sen. Bob Casey, or Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, or Gov. Jon Corzine, or Rep. John Murtha -- all of whom have, in their own way, delivered a different blow to Clinton's chances in recent days.


"Superdelegates are jumping to Barack Obama's camp or signaling that's where they are headed, including such prominent figures as former President Jimmy Carter," Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Some superdelegates who back Clinton have begun laying out scenarios under which they would abandon her for Obama."

Tell us if this line sounds familiar: To those who say Barack Obama can't win, what if he's already winning?

It might be Murtha, D-Pa., whose comments linger the longest. "She has to be ahead in the popular vote to have any chance at all of getting this nomination," Murtha tells HuffingtonPost's Sam Stein.

That as Corzine, D-N.J., sends word that he's "reserving the right" to switch to Obama if he holds on to the lead in delegates and the popular vote. "It would be a very hard argument to make if you didn't have the delegates. I think you need at least the popular vote," Corzine said Thursday on CNBC.

Another Clinton superdelegate, Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., has his finger in the wind: "I heard Nancy Pelosi say the superdelegates should not reverse the popular vote, and I think that's a very important consideration that will weigh heavily on all the superdelegates," O'Malley tells the Baltimore Sun.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos, on "Good Morning America" Friday: "What the Clinton supporters are saying is, she's got one hope, and that means blowout victories the rest of the way. If she doesn't do that, they're going to go with Obama, the superdelegates will break for Obama. He'll be the nominee."

Like that long-ago wakeup call (which came at a more reasonable hour than 3 a.m.) money is once again placing Obama's support in perspective. March was rough for him -- Ohio and Texas plus Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- but he raised $40 million last month, double the impressive-in-any-other-year $20 million haul by Camp Clinton, ABC's Kate Snow and Sunlen Miller report.

It takes its toll: "Obama's immense cash flow -- he has raised more than $240 million to Clinton's $175 million -- allows him to compete as aggressively in the final primary contests as he did in the early days of the race," The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk reports.

"He is vastly outspending Clinton in Pennsylvania, with $3 million in television and radio ads, including a Spanish-language TV ad airing in the Philadelphia area, compared with an estimated $500,000 that Clinton is spending in the state, which will hold its primary on April 22."

Mosk continues: "Obama's ability to capitalize on a sustained wave of online support has enabled him to spend almost all of his time campaigning. Clinton has attended more than a dozen fundraisers since Jan. 1, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, has appeared at more than 40, while Obama and his wife have attended fewer than 10 during that time."

"Obama's totals for March were down from the record $55 million he raised in February, but the fundraising numbers starkly reveal his ability to pour huge resources into his bid for the nomination against a Clinton campaign that largely finds itself in the underdog role, unable to match the Illinois senator dollar-for-dollar and ad-for-ad in the final nominating contests," Rick Pearson writes in the Chicago Tribune.

"The numbers also underscore Clinton's early reliance on donors who have already contributed the $2,300 federal maximum for the primaries, while Obama has depended on lower-dollar donors who can still give more."

And Carter is just the latest prominent Democrat who likes to dream: "My children and their spouses are pro-Obama. My grandchildren are also pro-Obama," the former president said at a news conference. "As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting for, but I leave you to make that guess."

This could be part what Clinton needs to change the storyline: "Senator Barack Obama's support among Democrats nationally has softened over the last month, particularly among men and upper-income voters, as voters have taken a slightly less positive view of him than they did after his burst of victories in February, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll," Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee write in the Times.

"Mr. Obama's favorability rating among Democratic primary voters has dropped seven percentage points, to 62 percent, since the last Times/CBS News survey, in late February," they write. (Those are still numbers Clinton has to crane her neck to see, but it's a start that --spun correctly -- could stave off a finish.)

Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., shares with ABC's Jake Tapper a taste of the Clinton campaign's argument to superdelegates: "Say that there's 10% about Hillary Clinton that we don't know yet, I will grant you that, but I would say there's also about 50% about Barack Obama that we don't know yet," Rendell said.

There's some things money can't buy -- the Keystone State very possibly among them. "While it may be tempting for Obama to launch a final assault, some experts say, there are limits to what he can expect to accomplish given the state's unique demographic mix and the striking consistency of primary voting patterns thus far," Politico's Jeanne Cummings writes.

"Then there are the risks of launching a full-scale offensive to capture an upset victory. . . . If he makes a strong play for a win and falls short, Clinton then could claim she withstood his assault, bolstering her claim that she is the stronger, tougher candidate."

(Remember South Carolina? Bill Clinton does.)

As to whether she is or isn't telling superdelegates that Obama "can't win," as George Stephanopoulos has reported, Clinton seemed to deny it at a press conference -- but then her campaign walked that denial back. "Clinton aides now insist the Senator misunderstood the question, asserting the candidate believed she was answering whether or not she would discuss a private conversation," per ABC's Eloise Harper.

And Clinton is, once again, raising the possibility of delegate-poaching (how many times can a candidate say something like this before the campaign can no longer deny that it's pursuing such a strategy?).

"There is no such thing as a pledged delegate," Clinton said Thursday, per the AP's Beth Fouhy. "The whole point is for delegates, however they are chosen, to really ask themselves who would be the best president and who would be our best nominee against Senator McCain."

The magic words -- clanging, deplorably loud music to the ears of uncommitted superdelegates: "And I think that process goes all the way to the convention," Clinton added.

Former Kerry strategist Bob Shrum uses a New York Times op-ed to lay out what could be the congealing conventional Democratic wisdom: "She has very little chance of winning, but Hillary Clinton has no reason to get out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination -- for now," he writes. "And, in the likely event that she falls short by June, I hope and believe that no matter how hard it is, she will do the right thing."

As Clinton tries to get from here to there, a Michigan do-over is dead (again). "The state party's executive committee is expected to hold a meeting by phone [Friday] to vote on a statement saying any kind of election to replace the results of the Jan. 15 primary no longer is possible," the AP's Kathy Barks Hoffman reports.

With no re-do, "a formal declaration that it's not possible would put new pressure on Clinton to accept a negotiated split of Michigan's 156 delegates," writes the Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge.

Notice that there was no March fundraising number forthcoming Thursday from Sen. John McCain's campaign. (If they had a good story to tell, do you think they'd want to tell it?)

"The fundraising prowess of each Democrat -- it was Mrs. Clinton's second-strongest month of the campaign -- may be a sign of future trouble for the Republicans," Christina Bellantoni and Stephen Dinan write in the Washington Times. "Mr. Obama in particular has been able to utilize the Internet with dinner contests and other creative grass-roots efforts to attract more donors from more places."

This is only really good news if the other side joins him: "In another sign that John McCain is moving toward accepting public financing this fall, the Republican's campaign is returning about $3 million in checks to contributors who have given money for his general election campaign, funds he could not use if he opts into the public system," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe.

To that end, this push from the McCain campaign Friday morning: "Five months ago Barack Obama personally and publicly declared that he would accept public financing if the Republican nominee did as well. As the McCain campaign moves toward the option of public financing, we hope Senator Obama will keep faith with his pledge to the American people," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds says.

(And stay tuned Friday for a new RNC research document that rounds up Obama's week -- a "hypocrisy" primer, from public financing to off-message advisers to energy policy. Think they have a pretty good sense of who they're going to face?)

Still -- the big trends don't look great for McCain. "While John McCain works to avoid the campaign undertow of this President Bush, he's risking the political trap that snared the first one," writes the AP's Walter Mears (a byline any student of journalism should treasure). "When the economy is sliding toward recession, it is going to be the win-or-lose election issue, no matter how well versed a nominee is in matters of foreign policy and defense."

Friday figures to be an uncomfortable day for McCain, R-Ariz.. It's the 40th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and while McCain (and Clinton) head to Memphis for the commemoration, with the visit comes fresh reminders of McCain's 1983 vote against making King's birthday a federal holiday.

"Most Republicans in the House voted for the holiday (89 voted for the holiday, 77 opposed), though all three Arizona House Republicans were opposed. Reps. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, and Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, voted for the holiday," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

"Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said his thinking about Dr. King had evolved since 1983," Michael Cooper reports in The New York Times. "The visit [to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference] comes as Mr. McCain plans to begin campaigning in African-American communities that usually get little attention from Republicans."

What did he get for his week? "In the lead-up to McCain's 'Service to America' tour, many expected fawning events where McCain could cast himself as a war-tested veteran, ready on Day One for the duties of commander in chief," Maeve Reston and Robin Abcarian write in the Los Angeles Times.

"Instead, McCain embarked on a meandering journey that began Monday and ends Saturday," Reston and Abcarian continue. "Each speech was a catalog of sin, then secular salvation, mostly given in made-for-TV settings where he spoke of his dawning awareness of a purpose larger than himself -- serving his country. The narrative that he told was a classic tale of redemption through selflessness, as old as Shakespeare (Prince Hal, anyone?)."

McCain did manage to flesh out his bio with some unique details. "There aren't too many politicians in America who would dare admit they once frequented a strip club," Time's Michael Scherer writes.

"Fewer still would cop to dating one of the dancers, especially if she had a nickname like the 'Flame of Florida,' or a habit of packing a switchblade in her purse. And among that select crowd, there are barely any who call themselves conservative Republicans, or would ever dare dream of running for President."

Now that this is known publicly -- how long before it has to change? "Weeks after clinching the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still has no Secret Service protection and has not requested it, the head of the agency told Congress yesterday," Michael D. Shear and Christopher Lee write in The Washington Post.

"McCain's choice not to request Secret Service protection has been mentioned on some blogs and was the subject of an article in the Arizona Republic newspaper. But it has not been reported by most news organizations, in part because of requests from his aides not to draw attention to the situation."

While Clinton and McCain hit Memphis to commemorate MLK, Obama campaigns in Fort Wayne, Ind., where Robert Kennedy famously announced King's assassination to the crowd. And North Dakota gets its moment in the (still cold) sun Friday night, with both Clinton and Obama addressing scheduled to address the North Dakota Democratic-NPL State Convention in Grand Forks.

Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Been there . . . "For the first time since ending his presidential bid, former Senator John Edwards says he will not accept a vice presidential nod on the Democratic ticket in 2008," ABC's Raelyn Johnson writes. One word did the trick: "No."

Clinton's latest ad takes her back where she started. "So let's have a conversation," she says in an ad hitting the North Carolina airwaves. "Just go to, and then I'll be getting back to you here on TV to answer your questions and offer some solutions. Thanks. It's nice talking with you."

Half of a North Carolina debate, to air on CBS, is in place: "A Democratic presidential debate in either Raleigh or Charlotte seemed to be taking shape Thursday, after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to a televised faceoff with her rival, Barack Obama, a week before North Carolina's primary May 6," Rob Christensen writes in the Raleigh News & Observer.

A piece loved equally by HRC and the RNC: ABC's Jake Tapper notes that, while Obama slams McCain on energy policy, he voted for the 2005 energy bill, while McCain and Clinton voted against it. "It takes some moxie for Obama to make an argument that McCain offers a third Bush term on energy when of the three presidential candidates, he's the only one who voted for what was widely perceived to be a Bush/Cheney energy bill."

This could also be heard from again: "A key adviser to Senator Obama's campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office," Eli Lake writes in the New York Sun. "The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security."

In case you feel like trading . . . "Hillary Clinton's chief campaign strategist met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. on Monday to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement, a pact the presidential candidate opposes," Susan Davis writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Attendance by the adviser, Mark Penn, was confirmed by two Colombian officials."

More NAFTA fun and games: Gene Sperling, "Hillary Clinton's closest economic advisor," "writes favorably of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), while noting its critics," per McClatchy's Kevin G. Hall.

The Boston Globe's Bryan Bender writes up a new Democratic message on Iraq: "Lacking the votes to end the war, Democratic leaders said yesterday they will try to make the US troop surge in Iraq 'irrelevant' by shifting the war debate away from the impact of the recent US offensive and instead make the case that the price paid in lives, treasure, and military readiness was not worth it."

Said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in a quote we will hear again: "The surge is a tactical concept that was meant to create the kinds of conditions for political reconciliation and negotiation, but whatever has been achieved is incremental and incidental."

Former governor Mitt Romney's, R-Mass., not-so-stealth campaign for the vice presidency is getting some conservative blowback, per the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. "If Governor Romney is on your ticket, many social conservative voters will consider their values repudiated by the Republican Party and will either stay away from the polls this November or only vote down ticket," a group of conservative leaders writes McCain in an open letter (signed, bizarrely, by Paul Weyrich, who ENDORSED Romney in the primaries).

The kicker:

"I was worried I wasn't going to make it. Yeah -- I was pinned down by sniper fire." -- Hillary Clinton, to Jay Leno.

"You know, in L.A. that might be true, actually." -- Leno, in reply.

"There's such a thing as too much fun, Charlie." -- Obama strategist David Axelrod, to Charlie Rose.

Bookmark The Note at