Either something is beginning to rumble in the Democratic race . . . or the race is already over (and someone just forgot to tell the superdelegates).
Either the Clintons have the pull to keep the race alive for another month . . . or they've long since worn out their welcome.
Either Joe Andrew captured a critical moment with his switch . . . or he shut himself out of gainful employment for the foreseeable future.
Either the Sunday morning TV face-off between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will redefine the race . . . or it won't.
Either math is math . . . or message is message (and if so, it won't be enough to wait out the clock -- and you might blame the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for that).
Speaking of math -- the Obama campaign rolls out another former DNC chairman's endorsement on Friday: Paul Kirk, a superdelegate who led the party from 1985-1989, is coming out for Obama -- a day after Andrew's switch, an Obama campaign official tells The Note. (And don't count on that being it for the day, as the dribble continues.)
If Clinton, D-N.Y., can make this is a race yet, we're about to find out just how patient Democrats can be with a race that's showing signs of shredding the party. Notwithstanding moves by Andrew, Kirk, and the like, Clinton needs superdelegates to wait for her case to play out -- and then she needs an utter and total rejection of the Democratic frontrunner.
"Despite a series of trials that have put Mr. Obama on the defensive and illustrated the burdens he might carry in a fall campaign, the Obama campaign is rolling along, leaving Mrs. Clinton with dwindling options," Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse write in The New York Times. "By and large, the group that matters most at this point -- the uncommitted superdelegates, who are likely to hold the balance of power -- still seem to view their decision the way the Obama campaign would like them to see it."
Obama is clearly still leading -- but Clinton has a bounce in her step to match her bounce in the polls.
"The Democratic nomination race is murkier than ever," USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes. "Hillary Rodham Clinton is rising in the polls while Barack Obama is gaining ground among superdelegates who will decide the winner."
Says Charlie Cook: "The delegate math couldn't look much worse for Clinton, but the current political dynamics are just horrific for Obama."
The AP's take: "Despite the momentum building behind Clinton after her win in Pennsylvania, it still appeared mathematically impossible for her to overcome Obama's delegate lead for the party nomination. . . . Regardless, Clinton appeared to be gaining strength among voters, especially the white working-class which has reacted negatively Obama's association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright."
Clinton brought a defiant tone to her answers Thursday, her rejection by Andrew and slippage among supers notwithstanding. "I think this has been good for the Democratic Party," Clinton told Cynthia McFadden on ABC's "Nightline" (offering what may be becoming a minority opinion). "I think that this is such a close election, why would any of us think that it shouldn't go to the end?"
She also said that her husband won't have a West Wing office in her administration, and flatly rejected any comparison between Obama '08 and Clinton '92. "No. No, not at all," she said.
"I give [Obama] great credit for running a really successful campaign and doing a wonderful job, and inspiring people. But when Bill ran in '92, he was the longest-serving governor in America. He'd actually solved a lot of problems. He had immersed himself in the issues and had very specific ideas about what he would do as president. So he wasn't just giving speeches; he was offering very specific solutions to the problems that he thought America faced."
Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe debated Andrew on what should happen next on Friday's "Good Morning America," with McAuliffe telling ABC's Robin Roberts that it's important to remember that neither candidate can win without the support of superdelegates.
He urged them to wait for the "morning of June 4" to make up their minds, by which time, McAuliffe said, "We will be ahead in the popular vote. It will be very close in the delegates."
Andrew countered that Obama will be ahead in votes, delegates, and states won: "We know that result today, we know what the result is going to be at the end of this process as well," he said. "What we need to do is make sure that we don't do the Republicans' work for them, and that's exactly what's happening right now."
The Andrew switch matters less for the votes he controls than the sentiments he speaks to. "I have been inspired," he said in announcing his support for Obama, and urging his fellow superdelegates to end the campaign.
What does this say about the Clintons' reputation? Andrew told ABC's Jake Tapper that he anticipates the Clinton campaign "will use the same words and the same language to attack me that Republicans used to attack me when I was DNC chair and I was defending Bill Clinton."
Per the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson and John McCormick, Andrew is now "a leading voice among top Democrats who have expressed fears that the longer the nominating process continues, the more divisive it will become."
One must marvel at the Obama campaign's ability to shape the storyline with just a peppering of endorsements, as the candidate moves beyond Part Two of the Wright affair, even as polls show the story taking its toll.
"His poll margins may be shrinking, but Barack Obama maintained his delegate momentum Thursday as former Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Andrew abandoned Hillary Clinton," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News. "The Andrew defection was particularly embarrassing to Clinton, whom he had enthusiastically endorsed, because he was tapped to run the DNC by then-President Bill Clinton in 1999."
New polls again show it tight -- with Obama slipping: CNN/Opinion Research has it Obama 46, Clinton 45; Pew has it Obama 47, Clinton 45.
"Clinton has widened her lead in Indiana, cut Obama's edge in North Carolina down to 7 points and lurched ahead in a major national poll, following a week of wall-to-wall coverage of controversial remarks by Obama's ex-pastor," Newsday's Glenn Thrush writes.
Another Indiana boost for Clinton on Friday: She grabs the endorsement of the Indianapolis Star. "As impressive as Obama appears, he is still in his first term in the U.S. Senate, and only four years ago was serving as an Illinois state senator. His inexperience in high office is a liability," the endorsement reads. "Clinton, in contrast, is well prepared for the rigors of the White House. She is tough, experienced and realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished on the world stage."
And there's only one Evan Bayh in Indiana (just like there was only one Ted Strickland in Ohio, and one Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania): "It is now Bayh's turn to play kingmaker," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "And though it is unclear whether he can deliver as successfully, in public and behind the scenes, he has been using his name, his political muscle, and his instantly recognizable face to draw Hoosiers to Clinton's cause."
But Bayh is taking hits -- with Democrats including Andrew and Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., taking part in the "Stick-It-To-Evan-Bayh tour," Matthew Tully writes in the Indianapolis Tribune.
The scramble in the polls scrambles the expectations game in the next states up -- and expect the unexpected. "Determining the victor in Tuesday's presidential nominating contest in Indiana could very well be left to that most elusive of Democratic primary voter: the Republican," Christopher Cooper writes in The Wall Street Journal. "A confluence of unusual political events has Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton looking for traction in districts often ignored by Democrats in this deep red state."
The push is on in North Carolina, with both candidates addressing the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Friday night in Raleigh. "The candidates' statewide organizations are working at a frenzied pace, deploying surrogates, holding community meetings, and working to get voters to the polls in the final days of early voting, which ends Saturday," James Romoser write in the Winston-Salem Journal.
They're fighting it out over the gas tax -- and arguing over polls. "Clinton advisers also argued that, while hypothetical general-election polls may shift, the new findings reflect an important change in the campaign, namely that the economy is now a far more important issue than it was at the beginning of the race and is likely to remain so," Dan Balz and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post. "Clinton, they said, has demonstrated repeatedly that she does better than Obama among voters who cite the economy as the nation's most important issue."
Don't forget about the other side of the Bill factor: "While Bill Clinton's gaffes have been frequently spotlighted in the national media, he appears to be building good will among rural voters, who are vital to keeping his wife's campaign alive," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. "And although Clinton's rock star appeal may have faded since his own candidate days, the 11 small communities he visited in North Carolina this week were thrilled to have a political celebrity in their midst."
Worth considering if you're a super-d? "Many black voters are making it very clear: They're concerned that Barack Obama is going to be denied the Democratic presidential nomination that they see as rightfully his, and if that happens, a lot of them may stay home in November," McClatchy's David Lightman writes.
It's a hushed version of Obama on the trail: "As he tries to navigate beyond one of his roughest patches in the long Democratic nominating fight, Mr. Obama did not retreat to the comforts of super-size rallies that have defined his presidential bid, with their lofty oratory," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes. "Mr. Obama's appearances resembled the early days of a campaign for the White House, unfolding throughout the day as a rolling introductory tour, absent much presidential glamour."
Yet -- there's a remarkable consistency in the Obama campaign, as a Washington Post profile of David Axelrod makes clear. Says Axelrod (not gloating, but close): "Seven months ago I was spending a lot of time talking to guys like you who basically would tell me you're 30 points behind in the national polls, she seems almost unbeatable," he says. "Mark Penn [then Clinton's chief strategist] was declaring victory. And we placed our bet on the American people. And now we've won twice as many primaries and caucuses, and I think we're in a very strong position. That's because there is a hunger for something different, and I think Barack represents that."
Politico's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei have the read-out on what Obama won't say to win: "Thrown off his game by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright uproar, Barack Obama's strongest answer to Hillary Rodham Clinton is one he won't give: Senator, do you really want to get in a contest with me over who has more unsavory personal associations?"
It's not Lincoln-Douglas, but we can't recall a showdown quite like this. Obama claims the full hour on NBC's "Meet the Press," while Clinton will be on for the full hour on ABC's "This Week," with George Stephanopoulos live with audience participation in Indianapolis Sunday morning.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday that he thought the "Mission Accomplished" banner "was wrong at the time." But in June 2003, he had a different answer, ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib report: "McCain pointed to the banner to bolster his contention that major conflict had ended in Iraq and that it was appropriate for the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold post-conflict hearings," they write. Said McCain, when told by an interviewer that "many argue the conflict isn't over": "Then why was there a banner that said 'mission accomplished' on the aircraft carrier?"
McCain got into a bit of a sparring session with a potential running mate, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn. Pawlenty "distanced himself" from McCain's contention that the deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota was the result of wasteful spending elsewhere, per the Los Angeles Times' Maeve Reston.
McCain, on Thursday: "Do I know specifically whether it would have replaced that bridge in Minneapolis? No, but I know that funding would have been available for higher-priority projects."
McCain is looking to his right, USA Today's David Jackson reports. "After courting traditionally Democratic voters, Republican John McCain will tend to his conservative roots for a new round of voter outreach," Jackson writes. "The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has scheduled speeches on judges and gun rights -- two issues that have fueled the success of conservative candidates going back to Ronald Reagan."
Or maybe it's the moderates that matter: "Faced with a crumbling Republican Party image, Sen. John McCain is gambling on a general-election strategy that relies on winning over conservative Democrats and independents, breaking with President Bush's 2000 and 2004 game plan of focusing on the party's core voters," Ralph Z. Hallow and Stephen Dinan report in the Washington Times.
Obama starts his day with a 9:10 am ET press conference in Indianapolis -- with an opening statement on the economy, and then campaigns in Indiana and North Carolina.
Clinton spends her day in North Carolina -- where both she and Obama do the J-J dinner Friday night. They get to do it all over again Sunday night in Indianapolis, for Indiana's J-J.
McCain campaigns in Denver, while President Bush talks about the economy in Missouri.
Get all the political schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also making news:
It's all about the gas tax -- and it's made for some unlikely allies. "Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton found themselves taking a lonely stand on the campaign trail Thursday, defending the proposed gasoline-tax holiday while critics from both parties lined up against it," Julie Bosman writes in The New York Times.
They don't have many friends: "As Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed Thursday for suspension of the federal gasoline tax, economists, environmentalists and others roundly denounced the plan as a political stunt that would favor the oil industry rather than consumers," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times.
Said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y.: "It's about the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view."
Per Bloomberg News' Daniel Whitten: "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's proposal for a windfall profits tax on oil companies could cost $15 billion a year at last year's profit levels, a campaign adviser said. The plan would target profit from the biggest oil companies by taxing each barrel of oil costing more than $80."
Hard to imagine this upsets her too much: "Iran has lodged a formal protest at the United Nations about comments by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States would 'totally obliterate' Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, the state-run news agency, IRNA, reported Thursday," Nazila Fathi writes in The New York Times.
Coincidence that the same week brings Obama to "Fox News Sunday" and Clinton to "The O'Reilly Factor"? "Fox News and the Democrats abruptly find each other useful," Brian Stelter writes in The New York Times.
And DNC Chairman Howard Dean sits down with Chris Wallace on Sunday. "The rapprochement between the Democrats and the cable network comes as the focus of the primary race is shifting from party loyalists to the kind of swing voters who share Fox News' populist sensibilities," the Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold writes. "The channel is an especially desirable forum on the eve of Tuesday's Democratic primary in Indiana, in which Republican and independent voters can also cast ballots." You think the race is interesting now? Imagine if Joe Trippi could go back in time: "I didn't tell him what I should have told him: that I had this feeling that if he stayed in the race, he would win 300 or so delegates by Super Tuesday and have maybe a one-in-five chance of forcing a brokered convention," Trippi tells "Politics" magazine, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson. "Maybe, just maybe, a brokered convention would have stunned the political world and led to an Edwards nomination."
But Edwards did drop out -- and since that time . . . "Campaign donors who previously backed also-ran Democratic candidates have adopted Sen. Barack Obama as their second choice, preferring Obama by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1 over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and giving him twice as much money," Dan Morain writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Obama has collected more than $2 million to Clinton's $900,000 from donors who once backed former Sen. John Edwards and other Democrats who have dropped out, a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records shows."
The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman rounds up the candidates' use of "distorted, speculative or out-and-out incorrect information. It's become a staple of the long election season as candidates tire and grope for any advantage."
"You're like I am, and I hate to say that." -- Bill O'Reilly, to Hillary Clinton.
"In the Illinois primary, I accidentally voted for Kucinich." -- Barack Obama, in No. 9 of his Letterman "Top 10."
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