The Note: Drifting Toward Denver

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."

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