The Note: Keystone Klankers

Pennsylvania could well produce two winners -- if Sen. Barack Obama keeps it close enough (whatever that means) against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But it's a pretty sure bet that it's already produced enough to make the Democratic Party lose. (Would anyone like to argue that either Obama, D-Ill., or Clinton, D-N.Y., looks better for the experience of this overtime contest -- particularly these six weeks of Keystone campaigning/complaining?)

The final days make the point -- and may be tipping the race toward the worrisome stage in the minds of savvy Democrats (and superdelegates?). Both campaigns are ending negative -- in rhetoric, tone, and advertising.

His closing argument is about her, and hers is about him, and they're not relying on surrogates or staffers to do their dirty work.

"In some of the most pointed attacks of the campaign, the rivals unleashed TV ads accusing each other of being enthralled to the special interests they say they oppose," Thomas Fitzgerald and Tom Infield write in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

And Obama provided Clinton a new last-minute opening. The line in question: "All three of us would be better than George Bush," Obama said Sunday in Reading, Pa., per ABC's Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller.

Countered Clinton: "We need a nominee that will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain."

The AP's Liz Sidoti: Obama's "backhanded compliment threatened to undercut his own efforts -- and those of the entire Democratic Party -- to portray the GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting as nothing more than an extension of Bush's unpopular tenure."

As if the campaign needed an excuse to take another negative turn. "The Democratic candidates traded some of their sharpest jabs yet, again raising concerns that when the brawl is over, the party will not be able to unite for the fight for the presidency," ABC's David Wright reports.

Said Joe Morgan, a Democratic committeeman for Berks County: "This has gotten so bad this year, I'm not sure people can forget about it and put it behind themselves after Tuesday."

It's flowing in both directions: "In television commercials and in appearances before crowded rallies, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, cast his opponent in one of the most negative lights of the entire 16-month campaign, calling her a compromised Washington insider," Jeff Zeleny and Katharine Q. Seelye write in The New York Times.

"Mrs. Clinton, of New York, responded by suggesting that Mr. Obama's message of hope had given way to old-style politics and asked Democrats to take a harder look at him."

Behind the story: "The intensity of Mr. Obama's campaign and his willingness to air negative attacks in recent days suggest he harbored hope of ending the Clinton campaign here or avoiding a major loss that would keep the race alive."

Obama can try (and is trying) to condemn Clinton's tactics; his campaign is largely built on the notion that such tactics need to change. But there are enough kitchen sinks flying for guilt all around.

"How on Earth can Obama with a straight face decry these 'distractions' when his campaign that very same day organized a conference call to harp on Clinton's Bosnia-sniper-fire gaffe?" asks ABC's Jake Tapper. "Is Clinton's Bosnia-sniper-fire story not a 'distraction,' while Rezko, Wright, Ayers, Bitter-gate, and the flag pin are 'distractions'?"

Remember that he's had chances to close her out before -- and whiffed. "Even as Obama campaign officials play down their chances of winning Pennsylvania -- asserting that anything less than a double-digit Clinton victory would be a triumph for the candidate -- his confrontational posture in the race's closing days suggests a newly adventurous strategy," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"The dramatic shifts in Obama's campaign in Pennsylvania reflect the lessons learned from earlier disappointments, when victories might have driven Clinton from the race," Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post. "He has questioned whether she is honest and trustworthy and cast her as a practitioner of old-style, special-interest politics."

This cuts both ways, over in the realm of spin: "Given how much they've thrown at us, and the all-out effort the Obama campaign has made to win, we don't believe that the margin matters that much any more -- just who comes out on top," said Clinton campaign strategist Geoff Garin.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., still isn't reading his talking points: "I'd be surprised if she doesn't win by 10 points," Murtha said, per Jill Lawrence and Kathy Kiely of USA Today.

Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., is reading his (for a day, at least): "Would I like [Clinton] to win by double digits?" Rendell asked on "Face the Nation." "Sure, but I don't think that is going to happen."

Or maybe not: "Not to put any pressure on you folks, but this is it, this is it," Rendell said Sunday in York, Pa., per NPR. "We're gonna we win, no doubt about it, but we gotta win big."

After saying "yes, yes, yes" at last week's debate to the question of whether Obama can win, Clinton offers a twist on that answer to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald (shades of her argument to superdelegates?): "I don't see any contradiction at all. . . . He can be elected; I will be elected. . . . If you look at the electoral map, anything is possible, but it is more likely that the coalition I have put together is the winning coalition."

The latest Quinnipiac poll out of Pennsylvania has it Clinton 51, Obama 44 -- almost exactly where the poll has been for two weeks.

McClatchy/MSNBC has it at Clinton 48, Obama 43 in Pennsylvania -- perilously close to the margin where a Clinton win won't be a "win" -- and in the territory where even a victory won't guarantee her a delegate edge. "Hillary Clinton leads among bowlers, gun owners and hunters in Pennsylvania, a blue-collar trifecta that is helping her hold an edge over rival Barack Obama heading into Tuesday's pivotal primary there," McClatchy's Stephen Thomma writes.

Pennsylvania is likely to show the Democrats their divisions, all over again. "The class issue looms the largest in Pennsylvania," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

"Increasingly, the fear among Democrats is that one group or the other might opt for Republican John McCain, should their favored Democrat not get the nomination. And in places like Lawrenceville, a section of Pittsburgh, preferences have only hardened as voters have gotten to know more about the candidates."

Clinton's close is targeting Obama's base: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday unleashed a steady barrage of attacks on Sen. Barack Obama, playing up her experience before a group that usually lines up behind her opponent -- students," Jerome Sherman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

She needs the late-deciders: "Undecided Democratic primary voters who wait until Election Day before choosing a candidate have overwhelming went with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a trend that she needs to continue in tomorrow's crucial Pennsylvania primary to claim a decisive victory," S.A. Miller writes in the Washington Times.

He needs the new registrants: "An historic spike in Democratic voter registrations in Pennsylvania could help Barack Obama cut into Hillary Clinton's vote in Tuesday's primary, robbing her of the big victory margin she needs to justify continuing the primary fight," Politico's Jeanne Cummings writes. "A poll of those switchers and new registrants released by [Terry] Madonna last week found that Obama was the preferred candidate for 62 percent of them."

Plus some Republicans (OK -- "Obamicans"): "In Bucks County there are 'regular Obamicans' -- former Republicans who volunteer only occasionally for Obama, if at all -- and 'super-volunteer Obamicans,' " The Nation's Ari Berman writes.

"Many of these Obamicans are voting as much against the Clintons as for Obama."

Fuel for the pre- and post-vote spin: "Barack Obama began the month of April with a 5-1 cash advantage over a debt-saddled Hillary Rodham Clinton, setting the stage for his lopsided spending in the crucial primary state of Pennsylvania," AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports.

"Clinton had $10.3 million in debts at the start of the month and only about $9 million cash on hand for the primaries. Obama reported having $42 million for the primary. (!) Clinton's red ink poses yet another obstacle to her campaign as she seeks to end the primary season with a string of victories."

(And if Obama supporters can pull this one off, they'll have a well-timed financial and public-relations coup. At precisely 1 pm ET Monday, it's "An Obama Minute" -- a 60-second span with a $1 million fundraising goal.)

Considering the miscues and missteps that have marked this six-week period -- Obama may already be a winner. Don't miss the tone of this Philadelphia Inquirer piece, by Larry Eichel: "Consider all that has happened recently, all of it with a Pennsylvania connection. . . . If any of this was bothering Obama in the final days, he hasn't let it show, even as he lashed out at Clinton for what he called her 'slash-and-burn' tactics. . . . The voters get to decide tomorrow whether Pennsylvania will slam the door in Obama's face or decide, after a long and erratic courtship, to welcome him in."

Even aside from delegates -- it's looking near-impossible for Clinton to pull ahead in the popular vote. "To overtake Barack Obama in the nationwide popular vote, Hillary Clinton needs a bigger win in tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary than she has had in any major contest so far. And that's just for starters," Bloomberg's Catherine Dodge and Kristin Jensen report.

"Even if the New York senator wins by more than 20 percentage points tomorrow -- a landslide few experts expect -- she would still have a hard time catching him."

"Victory margins matter because the overall pattern of the race is clearly established," The New York Times' John Harwood writes. "Mrs. Clinton is losing narrowly -- but losing nonetheless. Thus she must change the political weather in a way that halts the drift of superdelegates toward Mr. Obama before it extinguishes her chances altogether."

And, in the likely event that nothing shocking happens: "Rather than settle anything, the seven-week Pennsylvania contest is starting to look a lot like Groundhog Day, as polls show Clinton with a narrow lead," Brett Lieberman writes in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "A victory for her on Tuesday could mean another six weeks of primary fights."

"As the race grows more negative, most signs indicate that Pennsylvania voters won't be the ones to end the historically long primary season," Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning write in the Chicago Tribune.

Before the voting resumes, Clinton continues to lose ground among the only audience that really matters. Another superdelegate moves to the Obama column over the weekend -- Nebraska party chairman Steve Achelpohl.

The New York Times' Mark Leibovich seeks to find out why so many F.O.B.'s have become quite friendly with another B -- at the expense of H. "After nearly two decades building relationships with a generation of Democrats, Mrs. Clinton has recently suffered a steady erosion of support for her presidential campaign from the party stalwarts who once formed the basis of her perceived juggernaut of 'inevitability," Leibovich wrote Sunday.

Said former Bill Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta: "There is clearly a high frustration level among campaign types and from the Clintons themselves." (And this telling reaction from a "prominent Clinton supporter" to Sen. John Kerry's decision to criticize the former president's conduct: "And he was dead to us.")

Obama isn't the only one who needs to watch his words at fundraisers. Sen. Clinton's words from way back in February were reported Friday by Huffington Post's Celeste Fremon: " endorsed [Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said.

"And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."

Obama may well win the race, but is the sheen coming off the new car? "Sometimes when he answered questions at the ABC debate, you could see white letters on a black background scrawling across the screen of a Republican attack ad," Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column.

"The thorny questions Obama got in the debate were absolutely predictable, yet he seemed utterly unprepared and annoyed by them. He did not do well for the same reason he failed to outmaneuver Hillary in a year's worth of debates: he disdains the convention, the need for sound bites and witty flick-offs and game-changing jabs."

Then there's Bill Ayers. On ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made clear that he sees Obama's connection to the former member of the Weather Underground as fair game: "His relationship with Mr. Ayers is open to question," McCain said. "If you're going to associate and have as a friend and serve on a board and have a guy kick off your campaign that says he's unrepentant, that he wished they had bombed more."

The comparison Obama will hear about again: "The worst thing of all, that I think really indicates Senator Obama's attitude, is he had the incredible statement that he compared Mr. Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist, with Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. Coburn, a physician who goes to Oklahoma on the weekends and brings babies into life."

And asked whether it was a mistake to seek the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, McCain responded: "Oh, probably, sure."

It's "the latest indication that the general election campaign is likely to see a heavy dose of cultural politics," Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post.

Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "Unable to sell his out-of-touch ideas on the economy and Iraq, John McCain has stooped to the same smear politics and low road that he denounced in 2000."

McCain won't be the last to go there -- and denizens of Obamaland know it. "The Obama campaign is planning to expand its research and rapid-response team in order to repel attacks it anticipates over his ties to 1960s radical Bill Ayers, indicted developer Antoin Rezko and other figures from his past," Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff report.

"The move appears to be an acknowledgment that the Obama campaign may not have moved aggressively enough when questions about Ayers and Rezko first arose, and it comes amid fresh indications that conservative groups are preparing a wave of attack ads over the links."

Democrats are worrying about what they're learning about Obama, too. ABC's Kate Snow reports that labor leader Rick Sloan has written a memo to fellow Democrats: "Titled 'What Is Rove Up To?,' Sloan writes that [Karl] Rove will seek to redefine Obama's signature slogan 'Change We Can Believe In' and brand it instead as 'revolutionary change, change driven by an alien ideology, change no patriotic American could stomach. And he intends to do so by channeling Sen. Joseph McCarthy.' "

Said Sloan: "Democratic operatives ought to be aware of what the Republican attack machine has been doing for two weeks."

How does it end? The worsening tone is "stoking more worries among Democrats that the party's eventual nominee will head into the general election badly damaged," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "But no single leader or clique exists within the fractious party to end the fight, and those with influence insist voters must have their say."

"Nevertheless, some party leaders are quietly planning to try to end the clash, said people familiar with the matter," Calmes reports. "After the primaries end in June, these influential Democrats -- led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- plan to push the last uncommitted party leaders to endorse a candidate, in hopes of preventing a fight at the August presidential convention, party insiders say."

Donna Brazile looks ahead: "There's a group around [Sen. Clinton] that really wants to take the fight to the convention. They don't care about the party. It scares me, and that's what scares a lot of superdelegates."

The AP talks to more than 100 undecided superdelegates -- and they provide a glimmer of hope to the Clinton argument. "Most of the more than 100 undecided superdelegates who discussed their decision-making with The Associated Press in the past two weeks agreed that the primaries and caucuses do matter -- whether it's who has the most national delegates or the candidate who won their state or congressional district. But few said the primaries will be the biggest factor in their decision."

But is this a cache of two dozen or so that we could essentially count for Obama? "One in 10 said the biggest factor will be the candidate with the most pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses."

McCain on Monday starts his "It's Time for Action" tour, with a morning visit to Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. (How smart will this tour look if Clinton winds up winning the nomination -- leaving millions of black voters potentially in play?)

From his Monday morning speech, per the campaign: "There must be no forgotten places in America, whether they have been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice, or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically interdependent. In America, we have always believed that if the day was a disappointment, we would win tomorrow."

The preview from USA Today's David Jackson: "McCain's efforts to attract black voters face historic hurdles, in addition to the prospect that Barack Obama could become the first African-American nominee of a major party."

McCain adviser Carly Fiorina, to the Montgomery Advertiser: "The senator wants to go into places typically presidential candidates don't necessarily go, where traditional Republican candidates have not gone."

The McCain distancing dance is in full performance mode. "Americans are not better off than they were eight years ago," McCain told Bloomberg TV's Al Hunt Friday.

And on "This Week," don't miss the extra phrase McCain added to the end of this sentence: "I was frustrated for nearly four years as I fought against the Rumsfeld strategy, and the president's strategy in Iraq."

The Washington Post's Michael Leahy is the latest to look at McCain's famous temper. Some familiar stories, with a few new anecdotes and one juicy new quote to add to the mix: "His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger," said former senator Bob Smith, R-N.H. "In my mind, it should disqualify him."

The media may love McCain, but when Team McCain doesn't love the media, they don't fool around. McCain adviser Mark Salter fires back at the story, to National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru: "The piece is 99% fiction," says Salter. "In sum, this is one of the more shoddy examples of journalism I've ever encountered. But for the infamous NYT story, I'd say it was the worst smear job on McCain I'd ever seen."

McCain's money: Getting better, but not there yet. "His financial picture is changing from that of a scrappy and poorly financed underdog to a standard bearer whose political success is translating into financial success," The New York Times' Leslie Wayne writes.

"In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the McCain campaign reported that it had begun March with $8 million in cash, raised $15.4 million during that month and spent $11.8 million. Still, a large financial gap persists between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, who has outraised and outspent all other candidates."

The Clintons and Obamas make their final Pennsylvania pushes on Monday, with Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea ended the evening at a 10 pm ET rally in Philadelphia, and Barack and Michelle building up to a 9:30 pm ET rally in Pittsburgh. And Obama closes the evening with an appearance on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, with Clinton sitting down with Larry King.

Also in the news:

From the (crowded) Department of Irony: Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review endorsed Clinton on Sunday. From the endorsement editorial (which quotes the Rev. Jeremiah Wright): "She has a real record. He doesn't. She has experience of value to a president. He doesn't. Clearly, she's the wiser choice to represent Democrats this fall."

Soon-to-be Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank weighs in on the "bitter" comment he just might have spawned: "I have no way of knowing whether some passage of mine inspired Mr. Obama's tactless assertion that the hard-done-by clutch guns and irrationally oppose free-trade deals. In point of fact, I oppose many of those trade deals myself," Frank writes in an op-ed.

"But I know one thing with absolute certainty. The media flurry kicked up by Mr. Obama's gaffe powerfully confirms an argument I actually did make: That as they return again to the culture war, what the soldiers on all sides are doing is talking about class without actually addressing the economic basis of the subject."

The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen sees the Democratic Party eating itself -- and sees Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., as the solution to the cannibalism.

"The spirited Democratic contest is turning both candidates into losers. As a result, Democrats could say, 'A plague on both your houses,' and look for a different nominee. For sure, they need to start thinking about alternative running mates for whoever wins the nomination. One name fits both bills: Joe Biden."

Karl Rove offered up his veepstakes short list on "Fox News Sunday." Per ABC's Tahman Bradley, "He suggested former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and [former] Ohio Rep. Rob Portman. Rove said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told him she has no interest in elected office."

The Washington Post's Michael Rosenwald profiles GOP powerbroker Fred Malek. "He could relax a mouse who was about to be eaten by a cat," Rosenwald writes. "There's Malek with his former executive assistant, Gen. Colin Powell. There's Malek with his ex-boss, President Richard Nixon. There's Malek with former president Bush, after parachuting out a plane to celebrate Bush's 80th birthday. 'Did Bush jump, too?' [Scott] Rued asked. 'Hell yeah,' Malek said."

The Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter, on a McCain shift: "Only weeks after laying out his full foreign policy agenda, Sen. John McCain has begun scaling back a key proposal that had been greeted with alarm by some Republican supporters and wariness by important U.S. allies," Richter writes.

"McCain has said that, as president, he would call for creation of a 'league of democracies' that would move aggressively to tackle problems the United Nations fails to resolve, such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, civil strife in Sudan and world health crises."

"The idea has been a hit with McCain's neoconservative supporters, who are frustrated with a balky U.N.," Richter continues. "Now, however, McCain says the group would not use military force, and would be an informal organization in which democratic nations come together in different groupings, depending on their concerns."

Newsweek's Sarah Kliff and Holly Bailey look at efforts to define McCain on the abortion issue: "Several pro-choice groups are nervous that his record isn't speaking loudly enough-that, on the contrary, it's been overshadowed by his reputation as a maverick who bucks the party line. Their fears are bolstered by a new Planned Parenthood survey, conducted in 16 likely battleground states, which shows that 23 percent of McCain's female, pro-choice supporters mistakenly believe he shares their views on abortion."

Sen. Kerry's brother, Cam, helps Obama with Jewish voters: "In today's world, we need African Americans who will stand arm-in-arm with the Jewish community in advocating for Israel and standing up to anti-Semitism -- not only within the black community but also among Africans, Europeans and Muslims across the world," Cam Kerry writes in an op-ed.

"Barack Obama has shown -- by speaking out rather than staying silent -- that he will be such an advocate."

Politico's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei take on the fallout of the debate: "The shower of indignation on Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos over the last few days is the clearest evidence yet that the Clintonites are fundamentally correct in their complaint that she has been flying throughout this campaign into a headwind of media favoritism for Obama," they write. "The difference seems clear: Many journalists are not merely observers but participants in the Obama phenomenon."

The kicker:

"Let's say I didn't mind it. . . . But I don't make it a regular habit." -- Hillary Clinton, on the shot of whiskey she downed in camera range last week.

"I'm going to give the press some pies and see if it makes them sweeter." -- Barack Obama, perhaps missing the days of sugary coverage.

"I can't believe it - he's such a copycat." -- "A person close to Clinton," to Newsday's Glenn Thrush, on Obama's surprise appearance on "The Colbert Report" on the same program Clinton was scheduled to appear in.

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