The Note: Barack's Blues

After spending the campaign answering questions about whether he's too green, too black, or too red (as in states where he's winning) -- and now that his opponents' husband has gone purple -- all Sen. Barack Obama has to do next is show that he's blue enough (of collar) to be president.

So polish that bowling ball. Polish off the last of that arugula. Make sure those shoes aren't too polished.

What really matters now in the Democratic race -- according to those who decide such things -- is that Obama, D-Ill., demonstrate that he is a Real Person.

Pennsylvania's choppy wake leaves Obama still ahead in the race but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (herself trying to place her life and her campaign squarely in the working class) continuing to make things interesting.

There's lots of real people in Indiana and North Carolina, and many of them are actual voters who just might have something to say about who gets to conduct the band at next year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

Mostly, of course, superdelegates want a candidate that Real People don't find weird.

Said Obama, D-Ill., on "Fox News Sunday" (which stopped its "Obama Watch" at 772 days, on the same weekend that his former pastor chose for his media debut): "I've got to be more present. I've got to be knocking on more doors. I've got to be hitting more events. We've got to work harder," Obama said, per ABC's John Hendren.

(And did he open the door to more Wright coverage by saying that the comments of his long-time pastor are "a legitimate political issue"? Sen. John McCain thinks so.)

Time for some fresh life in Obamaland: "Mr. Obama was described [by aides and associates] as bored with the campaign against Mrs. Clinton and eager to move into the general election," Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.

"So the Obama campaign is undertaking modifications in his approach intended to inject an air of freshness into his style. . . . Mr. Obama's advisers are also debating whether he should give another major speech intended to lay out themes of his candidacy -- particularly the change he would bring to Washington -- that they fear have been muddled in one of the toughest months of his campaign."

Don't miss this detail: "Back in Chicago, a more sophisticated operation was methodically checking in with superdelegates who had already pledged to Mr. Obama -- just to make certain there had not been any slippage."

"In a noteworthy shift, the Illinois senator is trying to reach working-class and middle-class voters by arguing more explicitly that the reform ideas driving his campaign can address the economic troubles that threaten their way of life," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post.

"The shift comes amid signs that Sen. Obama's lofty appeals for hope and change may not be resonating with financially insecure voters, and may even be driving them away," Nick Timiraos writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Newsweek calls it the "Bubba Gap" -- and it's still the dominant storyline six days after Pennsylvanians voted: "What is just weird is this: how can it be that a black man running for president is accused of being too elitist?" Evan Thomas, Holly Bailey, and Richard Wolffe write. "Yet to pockets of America, he still seems to be the 'other.' "

"He seems a little strange, exotic; those cracked e-mails whispering about his middle name (Hussein) and declaring, fictitiously, that he is a Muslim who insisted on being sworn into office on the Qur'an rather than the Bible, keep buzzing around the Internet. To some, his manner is haughty; he is a bit of an egghead, one of those pointy-headed intellectuals whom George W. Bush liked to ridicule as a Deke brother at Yale."

Advice from Karl Rove: rework the stump speech, pick a new issue to push in Congress, and stop the attacks: "You have talent, intelligence and tapped into something powerful early in your campaign," Rove writes in Newsweek. "But running for president is unlike anything you've ever done. You're making mistakes and making people worry that you're an elitist. So while you'll almost certainly win the nomination, Democrats are nervous about the fall. You've given them reasons to be."

(At least he is -- undeniably -- a better basketball player than he is bowler. He nailed four field goals in his 3-on-3 pick-up game Friday night in hoops-crazed Indiana.)

The Chicago Tribune probes the "God Gap." "Buried within the exit polls from Pennsylvania are some signs that Obama's appeal may be worsening with culturally conservative regular churchgoers," the Tribune's Mike Dorning writes.

"Church-going among whites -- and in Pennsylvania Catholics are mostly white -- can be can be a marker for other traits. Older whites go to church more often than do younger whites. And whites without college degrees go to church in greater numbers than those with degrees. Both those groups are more supportive of Clinton."

It's one reason Obama made a surprise visit to a church in Indianapolis on Sunday. "During the service, he sang along to the different hymns, sat at attention during the sermon and even placed a donation in the offering plate as it was passed," Robert Annis reports in the Indianapolis Star.

Church, though, cuts both ways for Obama. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright continues his media blitz on Monday, with an 8:30 am ET speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

What is more Other than having a preacher who talks, sounds, and acts like Wright?

"Many in the corporate-owned media have made it seem that I'm running for the Oval Office. I've been running for Jesus for a long, long time, and I'm not tired yet," Wright said Sunday night at an NAACP event in Detroit, Kathleen Gray and Robin Erb report in the Detroit Free Press.

"I'm sorry your local political analysts are saying I'm polarizing and my sermons are divisive. I'm not here to address an analyst's opinion. I stand here as one representative of the African-American church tradition, believing that a change is going to come."

Another Wright soundbite Obama that may not need: "Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Barack HUSSEIN Obama," Wright said, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Arabic is a language, it is not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them this Arabic name like it's some disease."

At his morning speech in Dallas, Wright referred to "my public crucifixion," Sam Hodges reports in The Dallas Morning News.

Wright's reemergence "is re-igniting a racially charged controversy at a time when Obama is trying to convince party leaders he can appeal to white, blue-collar voters critical to capturing the White House," Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today.

So the separation continues, in a week Obama would love to be talking about anything else: "I go to church not to worship a pastor but to worship God," Obama said on Fox News.

"The problem -- and I've pointed this out in my speech in Philadelphia -- was where often times he would error, I think, is in only cataloging the bad of America and not doing enough to lift up the good. And that's probably where he and I have the biggest difference."

Obama and Wright are becoming big stars: They're now featured in an attack ad being run by a Republican House candidate in Mississippi: "When Obama's pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, [Travis] Childers said nothing," the ad says.

Politico's Ben Smith: "The spot marks Obama's rapid ascent in conservative demonology, to a place in an attack ad in a contested race that -- until several weeks ago -- would have been lent to Teddy Kennedy or Hillary Clinton."

The North Carolina GOP's Obama-Wright ad is set to start airing Tuesday, marking "the return of Jesse Helms-style politics," Rob Christensen writes for the Raleigh News & Observer.

Vice President Dick Cheney raises money in North Carolina on Monday -- intriguing timing.

And McCain, R-Ariz., is starting to get in on the act. "I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman Legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior, I mean being involved in that. It's beyond belief," McCain said, per ABC's Bret Hovell.

He also paraphrased Wright as "saying that al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags."

"Up to now, Mr. McCain had largely avoided talking about the incendiary views of Mr. Wright, saying he wanted to run a 'respectful' campaign," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. "Mr. McCain's remarks [Sunday] were a shift in tone."

"On Wright, McCain appears to be torn. He wants to avoid even the hint of exploiting the race issue, but he and his advisers (not to mention the North Carolina GOP) plainly recognize the political opportunity Obama's former pastor provides," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

"Further, McCain's camp is not deaf when it comes to the anger expressed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives who have grumbled about their nominee's criticism of the North Carolina GOP."   

ABC's Jake Tapper with a fact-check: "Wright never said 'al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags.' He compared Americans thinking that God blesses US military actions that kill innocent civilians with the belief of al Qaeda. He decried 'making a pre-emptive strike in the name of God. We cannot see how what we are doing is the same thing that al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag -- calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem.' "

Countered Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan: "By sinking to a level that he specifically said he'd avoid, John McCain has broken his word to the American people and rendered hollow his promise of a respectful campaign."

Of the newly surfaced Wright comments, National Review's Jim Geraghty writes: "Permit me to propose a new rule: If your mentor of 20 years has ever declared the United States to be 'the same as al-Qaeda, under a different color flag, calling on the name a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem!' you are ineligible for the Presidency."

Obama has some competition in the race for membership in the real world: Clinton, D-N.Y., is peppering her speeches "with memories of her father's fabric-printing business, feeling aloud the cloth, the silk screen and the squeegee he used to create patterns that would decorate strangers' drapes," Jodi Kantor writes in The New York Times.

Kantor: "Mrs. Clinton has spent her whole life climbing the ladders of education, wealth and power. Now, as part of her effort to hold off Senator Barack Obama and claim the Democratic presidential nomination, she is climbing back down them, sounding less like a Wellesley alumna than Roseanne Barr's old sitcom character, the den mother of her factory floor."

It's never too late to learn, though they got there the hard way: "Driven by strategy and necessity as the New York Democrat's advertising budget runs low, the Clinton campaign has opened 28 offices in Indiana," Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post.

"With 72 delegates at stake in Indiana, the Clinton family has made more than 50 stops in the state already, far more than Obama and his wife, Michelle."

Then there's Bubba himself. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza quotes a Clinton campaign adviser of saying this about Bill: "I think this campaign has enraged him. . . . He doesn't like Obama." On his adjustment to modern YouTube, gaffe-crazed politics, the adviser says: "It's like he's been plucked out of time and thrown into the middle of this entirely new kind of campaign."

It's not the same Bill: "Think of him like Michael Jordan -- only the past-his-prime version, playing for the Washington Wizards," Ken Bazinet and Michael McAuliff write in Sunday's New York Daily News. "Colleagues point to a slew of potential reasons for Bubba stepping in it so often, including psychological and medical."

"Hillary Clinton will have nightmares about her botched run for the presidency; it'll be worse for Bill Clinton," writes Bloomberg's Al Hunt (freed at last of party-hosting responsibilities). "The most talented and resilient politician of this generation has damaged his standing with gaffes, political miscalculations and a series of paranoiac, volcanic eruptions."

But Bill's not on the ballot -- and let the superdelegates chew on this: "After an important primary win in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton has reduced Democratic rival Barack Obama's double-digit lead among registered Democrats and voters leaning Democratic by more than half, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll," Newsweek's Brian Braiker writes.

"Obama has seen his favorability rating slip significantly in the last week, the poll found. The survey found that Clinton now trails Obama by 7 points, down from 19 just one week ago."

But if superdelegates think Obama can't win, they're not saying so (yet). Obama picked up another super-d with the elevation of Charlene Fernandez to an open position in the Arizona delegation. "He's the future," Fernandez tells PolitickerAZ's Evan Brown.

Clinton got a new superdelegate of her own -- New Hampshire add-on Kathy Sullivan.

Clinton's once formidable superdelegate lead is now down to 18, per ABC's count; Obama enjoys a 139-delegate edge when pledged delegates are includes.

And follow the (big money): Among the Obama converts: former ambassador Gabriel Guerra-Mondragón, financier William Louis-Dreyfus, and attorney Daniel Berger, who supplies this quote to The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Matthew Mosk: "I think she is destroying the Democratic Party."

No mas, Obama says -- no more debates, at least not in the next week. The Obama campaign rejected Clinton's call for Lincoln-Douglas style moderator-free debates -- "just the two of us going for 90 minutes asking and answering questions," in Clinton's formulation, per ABC's Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller.

(Not even if it's "on the back of a flatbed truck," as Clinton now wants it to be.)

"I'm not ducking. We've had 21," Obama said Sunday, per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul.

The Los Angeles Times' Chuck Neubauer and Tom Hamburger write up a cozy relationship from Obama's state senate days. "Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr. paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer to give legal advice to his growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. . . . A few months after receiving his final payment from EKI, Obama sent a request on state Senate letterhead urging Illinois officials to provide a $50,000 tourism promotion grant to another Blackwell company, Killerspin. . . . The day after Obama wrote his letter urging the awarding of the state funds, Obama's U.S. Senate campaign received a $1,000 donation from Blackwell."

A key Obama backer is entwined in the subprime mortgage mess: "One of the banks that went under after making a lot of subprime loans -- leaving 1,400 of its customers without part of their savings -- was Chicago's Superior Bank," Abdon M. Pallasch writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"At the helm of Superior Bank at least some of the time was Obama's national finance chairwoman, Penny Pritzker, an heiress to the Pritzker fortune."

The New York Times' Barry Meier and Margot Williams take a chunk out of the McCain mystique. "Over a seven-month period beginning last summer, Mr. McCain's cash-short campaign gave itself an advantage by using a corporate jet owned by a company headed by his wife, Cindy McCain, according to public records," they write.

McCain benefited from an exemption in a law he championed: "The senator was able to fly so inexpensively because the law specifically exempts aircraft owned by a candidate or his family or by a privately held company they control. The Federal Election Commission adopted rules in December to close the loophole -- rules that would have required substantial payments by candidates using family-owned planes -- but the agency soon lost the requisite number of commissioners needed to complete the rule making."

McCain talks healthcare Monday in Florida, with a 10 am ET speech at Miami Children's Hospital to launch his "Call to Action" tour. (We hope the campaign prints up T-shirts for each of these.)

"I am convinced that the wrong way to go is to turn over your lives to the government and hope it will all be fine. It won't," he plans to say, per excerpts from his campaign. "That route ignores the lessons of other countries where governments pay the bills, but real people pay a deeper cost through long waits for treatment or settling for care that does not take advantage of the latest medical science."

A Florida trip means more buzz for Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla. (omnipresent at the weekend's White House Correspondents Association events).

Also from the veeps-watch: "John McCain and Mike Huckabee yucked it up on the back of McCain's campaign bus Friday. The two men -- joined by their wives -- were like two schoolboys as they traveled to the first of two fund-raisers," Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "At one point, McCain was laughing so hard he could barely talk."

Also from Holmes: "Carly Fiorina, the millionaire former head of Hewlett-Packard Co., traversed crumbling and shuttered pockets of the country last week with Sen. John McCain, following the likely Republican presidential candidate's every cue."

Buck up, Democrats: "The electoral road to the White House favors Democrats this fall -- either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and has Republican John McCain playing defense to thwart a presidential power shift," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes in her scene-setter.

"A downtrodden economy, the war in Iraq and a public call for change have created an Electoral College outlook and a political environment filled with extraordinary opportunity for the Democrats and enormous challenge for the GOP nominee-in-waiting."

Yet USA Today's Susan Page has McCain "smiling": "At least at the moment, McCain's personal qualities -- his stature as a Vietnam war hero, reputation as an independent-minded Republican and persona as a strong leader -- are trumping the significant policy disadvantages he faces in pursuing a third consecutive term for the GOP in the White House. The protracted and increasingly bitter rivalry between Obama and Clinton for the Democratic nomination is a boost for McCain, too."

One fewer reason for McCain to smile: A new DNC ad (itching for the general?) takes aim at McCain's (by now hopelessly misconstrued) "100 years" comment: "If all he offers is more of the same," says the ad, "is John McCain the right choice for America's future?"

The RNC isn't happy. Statement out this morning: "It is clear that Dean could not defend his new ad because it deliberately distorts John McCain's statements in a way that major media and fact check organizations have consistently called false and misleading."

And there's this: "The past seven states to hold primaries registered more than 1 million new Democratic voters; Republican numbers mainly ebbed or stagnated," Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post. "North Carolina and Indiana, which will hold their presidential primaries on May 6, are reporting a swell of new Democrats that triples the surge in registrations before the 2004 primary."

Wright's morning speech at the National Press Club is your headline event on Monday. Obama and Clinton both work North Carolina, while Bill Clinton hits Indiana. McCain talks healthcare in Miami.

Also in the news:

What's a superdelegate to do? This standard appears to have been set (and now if we could only agree on a way to count the votes, we'd be golden): ""The most important thing to look at is the aggregate popular vote," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. (and a Clinton supporter) said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos. "The pledged delegates are important, but they're just intermediaries representing the people themselves."

Countered (Obama supporter) former senator Tom Daschle, D-S.D.: "There's really no mathematical way for Hillary to catch up on either the popular vote or the delegates" when you exclude Florida and Michigan, where the campaigns agreed not to compete.

Howard Dean just wants an answer: "We need to figure this out before the convention," Dean said on "Meet the Press," per ABC's Tahman Bradley. "I can remember when I lost to John Kerry, I had to go out and convince my supporters -- it took me about three months -- that they needed to support Sen. Kerry. I endorsed him. I campaigned for him. I went off to all the college campuses. . . . That's what the person who doesn't win this with 49 percent of the delegates is going to have to do in order to keep the party together."

Dean told ABC's Barbara Walters on "Good Morning America" that "the only thing that can beat us is not being unified." "We want the voters to have their say -- that's over on June 3. And then the unpledged delegates really have got to make up their mind, Dean said.

As for whether Clinton should drop out if she loses Indiana: "That is not my call. . . . Either of these candidates, if it's time for them to go, they'll know it."

Is this a signal of sorts from Dr. Dean? "To help boost the Democratic Party's coffers, Sen. Barack Obama's, D-Ill., campaign and the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) are establishing a 'joint fundraising agreement' which can raise up to $28,500 from individuals, most of which would go to the DNC," per ABC's Teddy Davis.

(What does it say that there's still no such deal in place for the Clinton campaign?)

As the Clinton campaign pushes for Michigan and Florida's votes to count, DailyKos has the excerpt from Terry McAuliffe's old book, back when he was trying to avoid a scheduling mash-up involving Michigan in 2004: "Carl, take it to the bank," McAuliffe recalls telling Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "They will not get a credential. The closest they'll get to Boston will be watching it on television. I will not let you break this entire nominating process for one state. The rules are the rules. If you want to call my bluff, Carl, you go ahead and do it."

How much did that PA win mean to the Clinton campaign? Politico's Kenneth T. Vogel reconstructs the fundraising timeline -- "a lesson in successful campaign spin, a case of shaping favorable media coverage by crafting a narrative too compelling to overlook yet also impossible to independently verify."

Vogel writes: "It made no difference that the details didn't always add up -- wide variations in the numbers of new donors; a conflicting timeline of when the money was actually raised. It was the eye-popping $10 million figure -- the most ever claimed in a 24-hour period -- that dominated the news cycle."

But Obama has still raised more -- and that's just part of that story. "Barack Obama's supporters are giving him more than just record amounts of cash. They also are providing personal information that may make his donor list the most powerful tool in U.S. politics," Bloomberg's Christopher Stern writes.

"Even if the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't succeed in his White House bid, this data will make Obama a power broker in the party for years to come. For the interest groups or Democratic candidates he chooses to sell it to, it would provide a gold mine of information and access to potential donors."

Bill Kristol offers praise of Sen. Clinton (really). "Hillary may well be the better candidate," Kristol writes in his New York Times column. "Will the media this week give Obama a pass on refusing to debate Clinton before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries on May 6? Will he be chastised for his lame excuse?"

A fall preview, from the New York Sun's Russell Berman: "Senators Obama and McCain are setting up a battle over who is the more proven party "maverick," a debate that could loom large in a potential general election matchup likely to hinge on the choice of independent voters."

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria looks at McCain on foreign policy: "McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic."

The Human Rights Campaign on Monday launches a new "national mobilizing effort" for the 2008 campaign with a 10 am ET conference call, featuring Joe Solmonese and Paul Begala. From the release: "The campaign will target HRC's 700,000 members as well as more than 5 million pro-equality Americans in key battleground elections. HRC will also release its first round of endorsements for the 2008 election and unveil its election website, a new 'one stop shopping' election resource that will help visitors gage the political landscape across the country."

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman is the latest to realize that he's writing about a lot of very tired people. (Pity poor Jen Psaki, lease-less in the campaign that has lingered too long, and Laura Capps, Bill Burton's lonely bride.) And this delicious detail (read into it what you may): "The Clinton campaign has sent out 1,572 news releases since the beginning of the campaign in 2007, the Obama campaign 454."

Elizabeth Edwards uses a Sunday New York Times op-ed to chide the news media. "The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country's inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles," Edwards writes. "Every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture."

She continues: "Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden's health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama's bowling score."

Coming this week: the new memoir by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a book that "will surely be read for clues," per the Las Vegas Sun's Lisa Mascaro.

Some gems from "The Good Fight," which hits bookstores Thursday: Reid ranks "King George" as the worst president he's ever served with, and has this to say about the man he's called a liar: "I've always said that our forty-third president is more his mother than his dad."

On the would-be 44s, he likes them both: Clinton is "as tough and smart as any senator I've seen"; Obama is the "dynamic young freshman senator from Illinois."

The kicker:

"Hillary Clinton couldn't get in because of sniper fire, and Senator Obama's at church." -- President Bush, remarking on the absence of his would-be successors at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

Best dinner slideshow comes from The Houston Chronicle's Julie Mason. (Find out the identities of all those people you were supposed to recognize.)

In case you didn't get enough -- more from the Washington Examiner's "Yeas and Nays" guys.

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