The Note: Super-Scare

If this wasn't a super-scare, what might be?

Six solid weeks of Wright's wrongs, "bitter" pills, bad bowling, gaffes, and goofs (and one big loss in one important state) surely have registered with those astute political observers known as superdelegates, and yet . . . Sen. Barack Obama's magic number shrinks by the day.

It's not a flood that washes away the mess left by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but Wright's wake brought Obama another three superdelegate pickups Wednesday -- compared to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's two.

It widens Obama's lead at a time that Clinton needs to be making up ground -- and might just be the answer we've been waiting for to the question of whether all these distractions matter.


And Thursday brings a switcher in Obama's direction -- a big Clinton name in a key state: Joe Andrew, an Indiana native who served as DNC chairman from 1999-2001 -- installed by Bill Clinton -- announces his move from Clinton to Obama at a 10 am ET press conference in Indianapolis.

"I am convinced that the primary process has devolved to the point that it's now bad for the Democratic Party," Andrew tells the AP's Nedra Pickler.

Says his letter to fellow superdelegates: "A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to continue this process, and a vote to continue this process is a vote that assists John McCain."

If Democratic Party leaders are as concerned as Harold Ickes and Terry McAuliffe say they should be, now might be a good time for them to speak up.

Clinton, D-N.Y., is making her argument, and Obama, D-Ill., might even be helping her do it. But what if it's the wrong argument for the wrong time in the Democratic race? What if -- to borrow a timely phrase that we've heard can be used prematurely -- the mission has been accomplished?

"The senator from New York continues to lose ground with the one group that can still deliver her the nomination -- the party leaders and elected officials known as superdelegates," Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post.

"For the Clinton campaign, the reemergence of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., soon after Obama's comments about 'bitter' small-town voters, was supposed to be the moment when superdelegates decided Obama could not be elected president," they write. "Instead, he has won more superdelegate endorsements than Clinton in recent days, whittling her once-overwhelming lead down to about 20."

Key sentiment: "Anybody who did not think Republicans would characterize either of our candidates somehow as deeply flawed has been living in another country, if not another planet," said Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who remains undecided but tells the Post he believes Obama will be the nominee.

"Some people think the furor over Barack Obama's fiery ex-pastor could torpedo his candidacy, but nobody told that to the superdelegates who will decide the contest," Ken Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News.

Per ABC's count, it's never been closer on the superdelegate front: With Andrew's switch, Clinton's super-lead is down to 14, 257-243. Toss in the pledged delegates and Obama has a 143-delegate edge -- an advantage that looks bigger as you get closer to it.

And yet -- there's a competing storyline that cast this as an open race still. The numbers suggest the toll: "Senator Barack Obama's aura of inevitability in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has diminished after his loss in the Pennsylvania primary and amid the furor over his former pastor, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll," Robin Toner and Megan Thee write in The New York Times.

Obama's unfavorable ratings are only going in one direction. And do you think Camp Clinton might quote this stat? "In a head-to-head race between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, both candidates are backed by 45 percent of the registered voters. In a race between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, 48 percent back Mrs. Clinton and 43 percent support Mr. McCain."

In the Democratic head-to-head, it's 46-38 Obama over Clinton in the NYT/CBS poll, and 46-43 in the new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. "Both candidates have been bloodied, though Sen. Obama, who previously has enjoyed much higher personal ratings than Sen. Clinton, has sustained more damage," Jackie Calmes writes in the Journal.

Indiana and North Carolina still matter -- and that fact is good news for the candidate who's trying to stay in contention.

"If the mathematics of the race has not changed, [Clinton] aides believe the psychology has," Politico's Mike Allen and John F. Harris write. "Before, the Clintons knew they were fighting a story line that said she could never win unless superdelegates take the nomination away from a popular African-American who came in first. Now they hope that they have subtly shifted to a new story line: Superdelegates must think twice before bestowing the nomination on an increasingly controversial politician who has missed repeated opportunities to wrap up the contest with a decisive, big-state victory."

"Pumped up and focused, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is putting in 16-hour days in Indiana this week as if she -- and not her embattled rival, Senator Barack Obama -- needs a campaign-changing moment in Tuesday's primary here," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

"Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), suggest worries behind the scenes about the re-emergence of Wright are more serious," The Hill's Mike Soraghan and Jared Allen write. "After coming off the [House] floor Tuesday night, Cleaver said an Obama supporter had just told him, 'We're scared to death.' "

"Some party leaders and superdelegates said the Wright controversy has given them pause, raising questions about Mr. Obama's electability in the general election next fall," John Sullivan and Carl Hulse write in The New York Times. "Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, who is uncommitted, said Mr. Obama's delay in responding to Mr. Wright might have hurt his standing with many voters -- in particular, so-called Reagan Democrats who live in places like Toledo."

Forget Toledo -- the leading indicator could be down in Mississippi. Travis Childers, a Democratic congressional candidate who's been tarred for his ties to Obama, "is pushing back -- by acting as if he's never even heard of Obama," per ABC's Jake Tapper. In a new ad, he calls his opponent's attempts to link him with Obama "lies and attacks."

Questions linger: "In his achingly slow steps toward repudiating the repugnant words of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama has run the risk of serious political damage by leaving vague what it was that attracted him to this outspoken critic of American society," Washington Post columnist David Broder writes.

"His vulnerability transcends relations with a radical preacher," columnist Robert Novak chimes in. "If Obama is seen as not just a presidential candidate who happens to be black but as the black candidate in the mold of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he faces a difficult struggle in the general election against John McCain even if he bests Hillary Clinton for the nomination."

Do Clinton supporters have enough time to make this argument? "When you're new to the public stage you're a little more susceptible to having the canvas painted in by your political opponents," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., tells The Washington Post's Dan Balz, saying that Republican will try to "Swift Boat" Obama over his relationship with Wright. (You sure?)

Clinton herself judged Wright's comments "offensive and outrageous" in her interview with Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly -- her strongest words on the subject to date, per ABC's Eloise Harper.

(And it's not just on Fox that Clinton is reaching across party lines: She tells People magazine that her dream celebrity date would be with Abe Lincoln, in an interview where she says she's never had cosmetic surgery -- and has never heard of Red Bull. Reporters covering her 19-hour days don't want to introduce her to it.)

Obamaland knows that the Wright furor isn't over yet. Michelle Obama, on the "Today" show Thursday morning: "I think we gotta move forward. You know, this conversation doesn't help my kids. You know, it doesn't help kids out there who are looking for us to make decisions and choices about how we're going to better fund education."

In North Carolina, we may yet have a race. "North Carolina's Democratic presidential primary is tightening, with Sen. Barack Obama's struggles in distancing himself from his controversial former pastor apparently eroding his once formidable lead," Rob Christensen writes in the Raleigh News & Observer. "U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, an Obama leader in North Carolina, said Obama has been hurt by the Wright controversy."

"The question for Obama is, how much damage did Wright do?" Jim Morrill writes in the Charlotte Observer. "A strong showing by Sen. Hillary Clinton in North Carolina could reinvigorate her campaign and perhaps sway crucial superdelegates."

Wright is undeniably on voters' minds. "Despite his best effort, in a meeting with about 30 voters at Garfield Park in Indianapolis, Obama again found himself explaining that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's views are not his own," Mary Beth Schneider and Maureen Groppe write in the Indianapolis Star.

And Indiana is undeniably on the campaigns' minds. "Keep your eye on Indiana," Maggie Haberman writes in the New York Post. "That's the message an undecided superdelegate said he got from both Bill Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama this week as the two resumed phone calls to Democratic Party bigwigs. 'Both conversations focused on Indiana,' where voters head to the polls Tuesday, said Don Bivens, an Arizona superdelegate who has yet to commit to a candidate."

It's not easy to change the subject: "A day after angrily breaking from his Chicago pastor, Obama pushed an economic message, talking about jobs and gas prices, touring a metal manufacturing company and packing a university arena as he so often does," John McCormick and Rick Pearson write in the Chicago Tribune.

"But it remained clear that Wright and his controversial statements in sermons and to the media were still a top issue among Obama's opponents and even some of his supporters."

But -- Clinton has another stump-speech (tall) tale to explain.

She's been talking about jobs lost when Indiana-based Magnequench moved to China, but "when it comes to Magnequench there's quite a bit that Clinton has conveniently forgotten," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

"What Clinton doesn't tell voters is that Magnequench was originally sold to Chinese interests during her husband's administration, which okayed the move despite concerns about national security and eventual job loss. Experts say the Chinese acquired the 'technical sophistication' that created the magnets long before George W. Bush took office."

McClatchy's Stephen Thomma: "What Clinton never includes in the oft-repeated tale is the role that prominent Democrats played in selling the company and its technology to the Chinese. She never mentions that big-time Democratic contributor George Soros helped put together the deal to sell the company or that the sale was approved by her husband's administration."

ABC's Cynthia McFadden hits the trail with Clinton in Indiana for a "Nightline" piece from the trail Thursday night.

Thursday is the fifth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished," which also marks five years of the White House hearing about what a terrible idea that banner was.

Said White House press secretary Dana Perino: "We have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year."

Um, yeah. And we're not alone in taking note: "Timed with the five-year anniversary of President Bush's 'mission accomplished' moment, the liberal advocacy group is launching a television ad which paints a vote for McCain as a vote for a third Bush term," ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib report. "MoveOn's ad, which has $160,000 behind it, will air starting Thursday on national cable as well as on broadcast networks in Iowa and New Mexico."

"Echoing a commercial from the national Democratic Party, the MoveOn ad represented an expanded attack on the GOP's all-but-nominated candidate," the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports. (And yes, we're hearing more about "100 years.")

The Obamas and the Clintons hit Indiana on Thursday, while McCain is in Ohio and Indiana after doing the morning-show rounds. DNC Chairman Howard Dean is Jon Stewart's guest on "The Daily Show."

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

Also making news:

The New York Times' Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor offer the tick-tock of the falling out between the pastor and the politician. "Only in this hotel room, confronted with the televised replay of the combustible pastor, did the candidate realize the full import of the remarks, his aides say. At the same time, aides fielded phone calls and e-mail from uncommitted superdelegates, several demanding that the candidate speak out more forcefully," they write.

"As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright's implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that."

Not the perception McCain wants: "Though Senator John McCain has promised to not raise taxes, his campaign acknowledged Wednesday that the health plan he outlined this week would have the effect of increasing tax payments for some workers, primarily those with high incomes and expensive health plans," Kevin Sack and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times.

The McCain/Clinton gas tax holiday isn't too popular. "A growing chorus -- including a top congressional Democrat -- labeled Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposal for suspending the federal gasoline tax ineffective and shortsighted yesterday, even as she continued to paint Sen. Barack Obama as insensitive to drivers' woes for not endorsing the plan," Alec MacGillis and Steven Mufson write in The Washington Post.

"It is an expensive and environmentally unsound policy that would do nothing to help American drivers," writes The New York Times ed board.

The Washington Post's editorial: "His opponents no doubt hope that Mr. Obama's stand will prove to be political suicide. We think it qualifies as political courage."

The Obama campaign sends this quote around from Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. (who has made his bed and is now jumping up and down on it): "I am disappointed, but not surprised that Senator Clinton's aides admit that it wouldn't do much besides give her a chance to attack Senator Obama. We need solutions instead of cynical, irresponsible political stunts. . . . The Clinton-McCain scheme is designed to win elections, not fix our energy problems. The American people are smarter than that."

Tales from the Indiana ad wars: "With Sen. Barack Obama's campaign stumbling in recent days, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backers have poured $1 million into an independent ad campaign in Indiana critical of Obama's economic recovery program," Dan Morain reports in the Los Angeles Times. The Obama campaign has filed an FEC complaint against the American Leadership Project.

The Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni sees a "softer side" of Clinton emerging in her ads and on the trail -- as when she joined a commuter for his ride to work Wednesday. "Gone is the tough and all-business presidential candidate who regularly blared at rival Sen. Barack Obama, who lately is instead battling self-inflicted wounds," Bellantoni writes. "In her place is what most people who know her well say was there all along -- a warm and engaging woman willing to laugh at herself."

The Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak looks at DNC Chairman Howard Dean, specifically "the fault line that divides Dean's supporters and critics": the 50-state strategy. "The former Vermont governor has poured tens of millions of dollars into the state parties. Computer systems have been modernized, and voter files -- the information used to solicit money and support -- are constantly scrubbed, expanded and forwarded to Washington, building a national database that should greatly help the presidential nominee."

More Dean enemies: "A group of Florida Democrats marched on party headquarters Wednesday demanding that Democratic leaders reverse a months-old decision to deny the state a say in the party's presidential nominating process," per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Mark K. Matthews.

Ron Paul's online army can still get things done. "His fans also catapulted Paul's latest manifesto, released today and titled appropriately, 'The Revolution: A Manifesto,' to number one on the Amazon bestseller list," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.

"The next nearest candidate is Sen. Barack Obama, whose 'Audacity of Hope' is at #113 on the Amazon list and whose 'Dreams of My Father' is at #278. Things don't look as good in the cold hard online reality of Amazon for Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton.  McCain's 'Faith of My Fathers' is way down at #4,758 this hour and Clinton's 'Living History' is at 21,380, although those two books are years old."

The revolution lives: "Quietly, beneath the political radar of the Republican Party establishment and mainstream media, they're laboring at the local level," Andrew Malcolm reports for the Los Angeles Times.

"Last month Paul forces read the party rule book in Missouri and elected about a third of the delegates to the state convention that will pick the delegates to the national convention. Last weekend in Nevada they drove through a rules change in the state party convention that halted the approval of pre-approved slates of convention delegates as a means to eventually substitute their own supporters to travel to St. Paul and boost Paul's delegate totals for platform and other struggles this fall."

ABC's Teddy Davis was on hand for the Washington premier of "Recount," the new HBO movie about, well, The Recount. "Power brokers who attended the dinner and screening on the tented tennis court of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn -- among them John Kerry, Tom Brokaw and Pat Buchanan -- appeared to enjoy the film, which premieres May 25 on HBO," Davis writes. "But tensions over the disputed outcome of the 2000 election were not far below the surface."

The kicker:

"They won the movie, we won the election. Don't get them confused." -- GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg, after the "Recount" screening. (Asked later how he thinks President Bush performed as president, he demurred: "I'm only responsible for getting him elected," Ginsberg said.)

"I was trying to get something to eat and I thought, 'You know, this guy's kind of weird.' " -- Cindy McCain, on her husband's attempts to pick her up at a party, on Leno Wednesday night.

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