The Note: Drifting Toward Denver

It's Clinton vs. Math, and Obama vs. Demographics.

The good news for Sen. Barack Obama: If he needs to show that he can fight, he won't have trouble finding one.

The bad news: Once a Clinton is off the mat, there's no telling what happens next.

The good news for Sen. Hillary Clinton: She lives to fight another day (or 12).

The bad news: The battle she's fighting may already be over (and only the Democratic Party stands to lose more than she does).

If Pennsylvania changed nothing else, it shifted a psychological burden from Clinton to Obama; instead of asking why Clinton won't drop out, we're asking why Obama can't force her out.

The calls for a quick exit have been silenced, superdelegates have been (mostly) frozen -- and Obama, D-Ill., has at least two more weeks of questions to face about his candidacy, even while Clinton, D-N.Y., can focus making her message work in Indiana (while trying her best to reinvent mathematics).

Flood forestalled: The day after PA brought Obama two new superdelegates, and Clinton one. Obama holds a 138-delegate edge, per ABC's delegate scorecard, and stands 301 delegates away from the finish line. (Clinton is back to even on superdelegates since Feb. 5; Obama has netted

Buckle up: "Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday stilled talk that she should consider quitting the race before the end of the primaries because of Obama's significant advantage in pledged delegates," Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.

Said former DNC chairman Don Fowler, on the undecided superdelegates: "The ones I know are quite content to let things drift along."

"Hillary Rodham Clinton's Pennsylvania win has bought her time -- but not much -- to make her case to the Democratic Party's superdelegates," per the Los Angeles Times.

"Interviews with dozens of superdelegates across the country Wednesday turned up a growing acceptance that the intramural contest between Sen. Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois will probably continue for six more weeks."

The results have allowed Clinton to bring her central argument to the surface in a more delicate manner than she's been able to previously: She doesn't have to say Obama can't win, since there are numbers to speak to that.

Obama's "second consecutive lopsided loss in a critical swing state has exposed soft spots," per ABC News.

"He's had persistent problems in winning working-class, less-educated, whites -- and Pennsylvania accentuated his seeming inability to connect with those voters. While Obama remains the prohibitive frontrunner -- with an effectively insurmountable lead in elected delegates -- those potential weaknesses among key demographic groups are fueling a fierce argument inside the Democratic Party over Obama's ability to win a general election."

"Sen. Obama's defeat in Pennsylvania by nearly 10 percentage points, on top of a similar loss to the New York senator in Ohio last month, reflected poor showings among white working-class voters and Roman Catholics -- two key voting blocs in a crucial state," Jackie Calmes and Mary Jacoby write in The Wall Street Journal.

"Some Democratic officials say that could bode badly for a race against Republican Sen. John McCain, who has strong appeal to some independent and crossover voters."

Clinton's win brings new questions about race. "The Illinois senator won only 38 percent of the white vote in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, a big part of the reason he lost the state," McClatchy's Stephen Thomma writes. "Of the 30 states so far where voters were interviewed as they left polling places, Obama won the white vote in just seven, including his home state of Illinois."

"Why has he been unable to win over enough working-class and white voters to wrap up the Democratic nomination?" asks Adam Nagourney in The New York Times. "Lurking behind that question is another: Is the Democratic Party hesitating about race as it moves to the brink of nominating an African-American to be president?"

The New York Daily News' Michael Saul calls it the " 'bitter' aftertaste": "Blue-collar whites shunned Obama on Tuesday in the Keystone State, raising questions about his ability to attract the key voting bloc in a general election matchup with John McCain."

Bill Clinton is jumping on this theme -- keying off comments David Axelrod made on NPR Wednesday.

"Today her opponent's campaign strategist said, well, we don't really need these working class people to win, half the time they vote for Republicans anyways," the former president said in North Carolina, per ABC's Sarah Amos.

"And I will tell you something, America needs you to win, and therefore Hillary wants your support, and I hope you will help her in this primary in North Carolina."

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis likes what he sees: "The cracks in Obama's Democratic coalition in Pennsylvania mirror what we saw in Ohio, and those cracks could have implications in November," Davis writes in a memo.

The bottom line: Obama hasn't answered the questions that have swirled around his candidacy. "The data from last night suggests that voters believe that Hillary Clinton's argument about Barack Obama's general election viability will remain valid until Obama renders it invalid," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes.

This is not the image Obama needs: "If you look at Obama's vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the '70s and '80s, led by college students and minorities," John B. Judis writes in The New Republic. "Its ideology is very liberal. Whereas in the first primaries and caucuses, Obama benefited from being seen as middle-of-the-road or even conservative, he is now receiving his strongest support from voters who see themselves as 'very liberal.' "

But numbers can mislead: "For all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

"Obama advisers say he also appears well-positioned to win swing states and believe he would have a strong shot at winning traditional Republican states like Virginia."

And numbers are stubborn: "If this contest were still at the point where momentum, symbolism, and reading tea leaves mattered, Clinton would be in pretty good shape," writes National Journal's Charlie Cook. "Clinton is winning in big, important places, but it's happening about three months too late."

The line from Camp Clinton -- that she's ahead in the popular vote -- only works if you count Florida and Michigan (which superdelegates are smart enough not to accept on face value).

And it doesn't necessarily matter much anyway, in a race all once agreed was for delegates. "Many a football team gains more yards than its opponent in a game yet loses on that important technicality called points," Cook writes.

"If you want to count them for some abstract measure, you're free to do so," Obama said Wednesday, per ABC's Sunlen Miller, David Wright, and Andy Fies. "But, you know, the way that the popular vote is translated is into delegates, that's how these primaries and these caucuses work."

But the closing gap is bringing Obama questions about whether there's just something missing from this messenger who's been nursing a lead late in the game.

Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column: "Voters saw in the Philadelphia debate the responses of a vitamin-deficient Stevenson act-a-like. And in the closing days of the Pennsylvania primary, they saw him alternate between whining about his treatment by Mrs. Clinton and the press, and attacking Sen. John McCain by exaggerating and twisting his words. No one likes a whiner," Rove writes. "Mr. Obama is near victory in the Democratic contest, but it is time for him to reset, freshen his message and say something new."

Time's Joe Klein sees wide damage in the Democratic Party -- a diminished Clinton brand, and a distinctly less attractive Obama. Obama "entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered -- still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party," Klein writes.

Columnist Robert Novak sees Obama trapped in a racial box. "The sudden emergence of Obama as an extraordinary candidate who could transcend race and ideology seemed to indicate an escape route from this dilemma. But Bill Clinton sought to label Obama as his wife's black opponent, and Obama -- who has lost every high-population state to Clinton except Georgia and his own state of Illinois -- has been increasingly identified as bearing the ideological burdens that brought down Democratic nominees George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis."

Surely the North Carolina Republican Party wouldn't mind talking more about race in the race: The party's ad featuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright looks like it was cobbled together using decade-old editing software (and there's no real ad budget behind it -- yet) but this is cutting-edge (cutting) politics.

The ad works "on two levels: paint Obama as 'extreme' for attending Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where Rev. Wright made incendiary comments and knock Democrats Bev Perdue and Richard Moore for endorsing someone as 'extreme' to North Carolina as Obama," per ABC's Tahman Bradley.

Check out the harsh response from Sen. John McCain (setting the bar high for the conduct of his eventual opponent): "I'm making it very clear, as I have a couple of times in the past, that there's no place for that kind of campaigning -- and the American people don't want it, period," McCain said of the North Carolina GOP's ad, per the Los Angeles Times' Maeve Reston.

"The back-and-forth shows McCain's difficult position," the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan writes. "Some Republicans clearly want him to go further than he has in attacking Obama, seeing an opportunity in the Democrat's associations. But McCain, among all the Republicans who sought their party's nomination this year, may be the least able to capitalize on Obama's gaffes."

Obama fires back, in an interview with Huffington Post's Beverly Davis. "I assume that if John McCain thinks that it's an inappropriate ad that he can get them to pull it down since he's their nominee and standard-bearer," Obama said.

(Not a great assumption -- and not a comfortable one the next time a 527 you'd like some distance from starts spending on your behalf.)

(And we wonder what Camp Clinton has to say on this subject. . . . )

The spot stays: "This is not about the RNC," state party chair Linda Daves tells the Charlotte Observer. "It is about North Carolina, our values and two Democrat candidates who are out of sync with the values of North Carolina."

More fun to come: Floyd Brown, one of the minds behind the "Willie Horton" ads, is taking on Obama, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Quoting the Chicago Sun-Times calling the mayhem 'urban terrorism,' the ad points out that in 2001 Obama voted against expanding the death penalty for gang murders," Tapper writes.

"When the time came to get tough,' says the narrator, "Obama chose to be weak. So the question is, can a man so weak in the war on gangs be trusted in the war on terror?" The ad ends with appropriate subtlety: with an image of the World Trade Center rubble.

You'll hear this theme again: "The next critical primaries could be shaped by political dirty tricks from outside their campaigns," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Clinton's win meant Obama-type money -- the Clinton campaign estimated that it would bring in $10 million online in the 24 hours after polls closed in Pennsylvania. "The boost in funds helped stabilize Clinton's campaign at a time when it was running a deficit and struggling to find the resources to compete with Obama in the next two states, Indiana and North Carolina," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"She will need the money for what is being framed as a do-or-die contest in Indiana two weeks from now," Peter Slevin and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post.

And she needs it to keep flowing: "We have to raise a lot of money," Clinton told a conference call of some 3,100 fundraisers Wednesday, per ABC's Kate Snow. "I know you understand this, but boy is it a tremendous hill to climb."

Mark this moment -- we cannot recall having read this sentence the morning after any previous primary: "The Obama campaign declined to disclose its fundraising total for Wednesday," USA Today's Ken Dilanian writes.

Meet us in Indiana: "Sen. Barack Obama is under pressure to knock Sen. Hillary Clinton out of the race and prove he can connect with working-class whites, while Sen. Clinton must narrow the delegate gap in order to bring in donations and keep her candidacy going," Amy Chozick and Nick Timiraos write in The Wall Street Journal.

They start on (roughly) equal footing: "With a demographic landscape that's well-suited to both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Indiana is shaping up as the most consequential battleground of the remaining states," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

One of the many somethings to watch for: "Clinton could win the vast majority of counties in the state and still lose."

Even Republicans are excited: "Many in the GOP view it as nothing more than public relations nonsense, but the Obama campaign says 'Obamacans' are a growing political breed, much in the same way Reagan Democrats shaped elections in the 1980s," Brendan O'Shaughnessy writes in the Indianapolis Star.

"The Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign says it has seen the same trend among its supporters."

And meet us back in Michigan, too: "Fresh from victory in Pennsylvania, Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign is renewing talk of not only counting the results from the disallowed primaries in Michigan and Florida, but giving more weight to the popular vote than to the number of delegates pledged to each candidate in an attempt to court uncommitted superdelegates," Kathleen Gray reports in the Detroit Free Press.

One possible solution: "The national Democratic Party has been slapped with a formal challenge for stripping Michigan of its convention delegates, who are growing more important in the tight race for the presidential nomination," Mark Hornbeck writes in the Detroit News.

"Michigan Democratic Party activist Joel Ferguson filed the challenge Wednesday in an effort to seat this state's superdelegates and allot half-votes to its pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver."

Checking in with McCain: "With a broadside last week against 'greedy' corporate CEOs and his current campaign tour of places Republican candidates usually miss, Sen. John McCain is in the middle of a political rebranding effort to show the war hero can also master poverty and economic pain," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times.

"The presumed Republican presidential nominee is enjoying an extended honeymoon, thanks to Democrats' bitter nomination battle, and he's making the most of it, attempting to mold his professed conservative principles into the image of the compassionate domestic leader that voters have come to expect in a chief executive."

A word to Democrats: Don't lose track of what the presumptive GOP nominee is doing. "While he offered few other poverty-fighting specifics in a speech that was largely focused on trying to connect to voters in one of the poorest parts of the United States, he sought to project himself to independents and moderate Democrats across the country as a different kind of Republican," Elisabeth Bumiller reports in The New York Times.

"McCain is reaching out to voters in these Democratic strongholds to try to build the broad, center-right coalition that aides believe is necessary for him to become president. Advisers do not think Republicans alone can elect McCain, given how many have become disenchanted with President Bush and his policies," Juliet Eilperin and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post.

But The Boston Globe's Foon Rhee points out that McCain "didn't exactly have a walkover" in his own primary in Pennsylvania. "The Arizona senator won 73 percent of the nearly 805,000 votes cast Tuesday, but libertarian Representative Ron Paul of Texas drew 16 percent and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had 11 percent."

McCain has finally picked up Secret Service protection, ABC's John Hendren reports. "McCain had long been reluctant to campaign accompanied by dark-suited, shades-donning, crowd-scanning agents because, he has said, it would inhibit his contact with voters during the campaign," Hendren writes. "But ABC News has learned that after reconsidering his security situation, protection for McCain began this week, long after that of his two Democratic rivals."

Obama is down on Thursday in Chicago, while Clinton hits North Carolina, and McCain tours New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward with Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. (veepstakes tryout, anyone?).

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

Also making news:

A new name out of the Rezko trial: Karl Rove. "Prosecutors alleged that political insiders in Washington and Illinois claimed to be working to choke off a criminal investigation launched by U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald," Bob Secter and Jeff Coen write in the Chicago Tribune.

"At the trial of Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, prosecutors revealed Wednesday that former Rezko confidant Ali Ata was prepared to testify that Rezko told him in November 2004 of a plan to pull strings with then-White House political director Karl Rove and have Fitzgerald fired."

Obama scrutiny over the oil-money claims continues. "Sen. Barack Obama continued accepting donations from oil company executives and employees last month even as he aired ads in which he stated he took no oil company money," Dan Morain writes in the Los Angeles Times.

"Obama has taken at least $263,000 from oil company executives, family members and employees since entering the presidential race last year, including $46,000 last month. At least $140,000 has come in chunks of between $1,000 and $2,300, the maximum permitted under federal law."

A fresh issue -- any fresh issue -- is welcome these days. "In a new policy split in the presidential campaign, Barack Obama opposed a federal gas-tax holiday supported by John McCain, the likely Republican nominee. Hillary Clinton said she would be open to the tax break," writes The Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos.

The RNC is already out with a video on the subject.

The New Republic's Michael Crowley has an interesting look at Obama and the war: "Barack Obama's campaign is largely based around a promise to 'end the war' in Iraq by withdrawing troops within 16 months. But some Washington foreign policy mandarins insist this isn't possible--that a total U.S. withdrawal isn't achievable and Obama knows it. That Obama, like Nixon, in fact has a secret plan not to end the war."

Al Gore time? The Boston Phoenix's Steven Stark thinks so: "If [Hillary] and Bill care about the party and nation and truly believe that Obama is unelectable -- an unpopular but defensible argument -- they have, really, only two choices. They can throw in with an effort to draft their former protégé. . . . Or they can continue to indulge their illusions and send their party hurtling toward disaster."

Tired, anyone? Well -- yes. "They've been campaigning hard for more than a year, and their wall-to-wall schedules won't let up anytime soon. Neither wants to cede ground in their epic struggle for the Democratic nomination," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes.

"Fatigue, however, breeds unforced errors -- and both candidates have made some in the past few weeks."

The kicker:

"Hillary Clinton wins the Pennsylvania primary. I can't wait to see where she grew up in Indiana." -- Stephen Colbert

"He asked if we would write 'OBAMA' on the Hollywood sign with our laser tag." -- Laser-graffiti artist James Powderly, on a call received from an Obama supporter. (His company declined.)

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