So now that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has survived (sort of) her roughest week yet -- which way toward her (officially deemed inevitable) exit?
Could Sen. Barack Obama simply declare the race over? (Watch May 20th.)
Will it just be math -- as tallied by the superdelegates? (Two more dropped Friday morning, and those scoring at home will notice a new super-leader, for the first time this campaign.)
Will it take a job offer?
Sober consideration of what's next?
Or will the general election just start without her?
An important symbolic threshold was crossed on Friday: With two new superdelegate endorsements (including one switch from Clinton), Obama now has the support of 267 supers, to Clinton's 265, per ABC's count.
Clinton's insider support -- a cornerstone of her campaign's foundation, and its building plans for whatever future it has left -- is stalled and shrinking, as smart political types bow to realities. (And don't miss how crisply the Obama campaign rolled these out through the local newspapers.)
"Clinton's advantage among superdelegates was once massive and has been dwindling steadily since Super Tuesday, when she was ahead by over 60 superdelegates," ABC's Karen Travers reports.
"That means he leads in every important metric in this race right now," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Friday. "He is consolidating this victory, moving toward unifying the party, and really not looking back."
"It's clear now that Sen. Obama is going to be the nominee," he added. "I think the only thing now is working out the details of how to get it done -- and I would just say, before June."
This is the group Clinton needs to reject Obama in overwhelming numbers, and yet:
Obama "represents our best chance of winning in November," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes.
"It's time now for us to pull our party together," former Clinton backer Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., tells The Star-Ledger's Robert Schwaneberg.
Contrast that with the enthusiasm of Clinton's new super, Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa., who points out that Clinton was favored by his district's voters: "I will respect their decision."
That extraordinary scene on the House floor Thursday, with Obama feted as a conquering hero (in the same neighborhood Clinton has trouble scheduling meetings a day earlier) was a decent measure of which way the wind gusts.
"Mr. Obama made a celebratory return to the Capitol, where he received an enthusiastic reception on the House floor in an appearance staged to position him as the party's inevitable nominee," Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn write in The New York Times.
"Senior Democratic officials said he met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi when their paths crossed at Democratic Party headquarters. They had spoken by telephone earlier in the week. Ms. Pelosi and Mrs. Clinton have had no known recent talks."
"He looked every bit the triumphant Democratic nominee as he marched on foot in the drizzling rain with some members of Congress from a meeting nearby into the Capitol building," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf and Jacqueline Klingebiel report.
Clinton backer Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., scrambled to get an autograph on the House floor, "while some 200 Democratic members swarmed the likely nominee and showered him with hugs, kisses and backslaps," Richard Sisk and David Saltonstall write in the New York Daily News.
For Obama, the pivot has already begun: He's not mentioning Clinton in his stump speech, is spending more time playing "Taboo" with reporters than campaigning in West Virginia -- and don't look for any Obama surrogates to agree to talkfest TV debates with any Clinton surrogates any time soon.
The Obama campaign is peering past Clinton -- on to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"In Chicago, Obama's team worked to accelerate a transition to general-election mode that began weeks ago, only to be shelved as the primary showdown continued," Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., got her conversation with Clinton: "She doesn't believe it's time," Feinstein said afterward.
Yet in quiet corners of Camp Clinton, the whispers continue: "She's darting around the country like a full-fledged presidential candidate, but within Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's circle of advisors and donors, the conversation has turned to how she can make a dignified exit from the race," Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times.
Richard Schiffrin, a Clinton national finance co-chairman, said he planned to advise Clinton: "Let's look at the situation as it exists and think about whether there's a credible path to the nomination, and if there isn't, what's Plan B?" Says a "Clinton aide": "I don't think anyone sees that there's a clear path to victory here."
(Who doesn't want to go out on a high note?)
From cold, hard politics, to cold hard cash: "The once-formidable fund-raising machine of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun to sputter at the worst possible moment for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign, Clinton advisers and donors said Thursday, with spending curtailed on political events and advertising as Mrs. Clinton seeks to compete in the last six nominating contests," Patrick Healy and Michael Luo write in The New York Times.
The post-Tuesday online haul: Barely $1 million. "Clinton advisers said they were looking for opportunities to save money on campaign events in the coming primary states of West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon," Healy and Luo write. "The advisers said events would be more frill-free, but they also said that the campaign was likely to go deeper into debt to vendors who design and produce her events."
Obamaland won't push someone who's sliding on her own: "Obama advisers are watching and waiting," Dan Balz reports in The Washington Post. "They are concerned that Clinton appears ready to continue challenging his strength against McCain. Inside the Obama camp, there is consensus that she should be given time to ease down from the intensity of recent months and to make a transition to more positive campaigning."
That may change -- slightly -- May 20, when Obama will almost certainly clinch a majority of the pledged delegates. "If at that point we have the majority of pledged delegates, which is possible, then I think we can make a pretty strong claim that we've got the most runs and it's the ninth inning and we've won," Obama told NBC.
(And those in both camps aren't quite shooting down talk of a "Dream Ticket" with the certainty they once did. "She is tireless, she is smart, she is capable, so obviously she'd be on anybody's short list," Obama told CNN.)
Never mind that the game isn't over until after the ninth -- and Clinton is still on the field, even while Obama isn't. "The delegate math may be complicated but the electoral math is easy. We need 270 electoral votes to win in November," Clinton said Thursday. "I think West Virginia is a test. It's a test for me, it's a test for Senator Obama."
On the possibility of Obama lighting that cigar early, ABC's Jake Tapper switches sports to issue a warning: "Now Obama wants the game to end early, and he wants the goal posts moved to the 10-yard line. This strikes me as possibly a huge miscalculation."
If West Virginia is a test, it's one Obama is practically skipping -- his current schedule doesn't include a West Virginia stop until Monday, just one day before the state's primary. And USA Today tells us why.
Yet . . . this isn't a West Virginia lede Camp Clinton would design: "Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Clinton gave no indication she was pulling out of the presidential race anytime soon Thursday," Tom Searls writes in the Charleston Gazette.
If Clinton wants to play nice, she may not want to utter phrases "white Americans" and "whites" again, as she did in that USA Today interview.
"I can't believe Sen. Clinton would say anything that dumb," Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. (and still a Clinton supporter, despite that bear hug on the House floor), tells the New York Daily News.
"This is exactly the kind of talk that's going to make superdelegates nervous," Stephanopoulos said on "GMA."
Perhaps she's more realistic than she's letting on: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to Capitol Hill this week may have been more about weighing her support than it was about wooing superdelegates," Politico's Ben Smith and Amie Parnes report.
"According to a senior Democratic aide, Clinton asked some uncommitted superdelegates if they could commit to her privately -- without the political risks of a public endorsement -- so that she could gauge whether she has the support she feels she needs to remain a viable candidate."
(To what extent does the Clintons' distance from reality these next few days and weeks line up with Sen. Clinton's ability to stay in the race -- and, at the very least, get out on her own terms?)
Maybe Bill believes this, or maybe he just wants to: "Don't believe all this stuff you read in the press, she can still win this thing if you vote for her big enough," the former president said, per ABC's Sarah Amos.
He probably does believe this: "Hillary is still in this race despite being heavily outspent and despite one-sided media coverage," Clinton said, per the Beckley Register-Herald's Matthew Hill.
He definitely does believe this: "There is nobody in America who has more credibility [on healthcare] and for you or any other person to claim she didn't work on it, is the craziest thing I ever heard," he told a sharp questioner on the trail, per ABC's Sarah Amos.
When does it become time to think about what's next? "Certainly she could run again, either in 2012 if Obama loses in November or, if he wins, in 2016, when she would be 68, three years younger than John McCain is now," Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes. "But the slash-and-burn tactics desperate candidates sometimes resort to in the hope of a miracle would undercut those prospects."
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., tells Lehigh: "At this point, her possibilities and her future in the party are very sound. . . . But the ending and the follow-up always make the difference."
Adding to that chorus (almost literally) is Al Sharpton: "The worst thing in the world is when an entertainer doesn't know when the show is over," Shartpon tells New York 1. "The audience is gone, the lights are down, you're getting ready to cut the mics off and you are still on the stage singing. It's over, it's all right, it's over. Come sing another day, but this show is over, Senator Clinton."
And Leon Panetta: "It's pretty clear unless there's a bolt of lightning, Barack Obama is likely to win the Democratic nomination," Panetta tells KGO-TV. "She's put up a good fight and put up a good race, but I think there's a time now where she needs to concede and unify the party." http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/05/panetta-time-fo.html
Hillary's still got Harvey: CNN's Ed Henry reported Thursday that Harvey Weinstein threatened to stop funding Democratic efforts if Speaker Pelosi doesn't support new votes in Michigan and Florida. Weinstein's denial, per the New York Post: "Never, ever was the thought about denying funding to Democrats."
The non-Clinton portion of the campaign plugs along as if she no longer existed. This looks like it's going to be fun: Obama told CNN that McCain's efforts to "smear" him show that he is "losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination" -- a comment Team McCain as "an insulting dig at Sen. John McCain's age," ABC's Ron Claiborne reports.
Top McCain aide Mark Salter: "Obama's attack today: He used the words 'losing his bearings' intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue. This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "Clearly losing one's bearings has no relation to age," Burton said, calling Salter's statement a "bizarre rant."
McCain has other distractions to deal with this Friday: "Sen. John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest here for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers," Matthew Mosk scoops in The Washington Post.
"The Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks," Mosk writes.
And Arianna Huffington has witnesses -- former White House aides (sort of).
Bradley Whitford tells The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller: "McCain was just sort of going off on how much he disliked Bush and the horrible things that the Bush campaign had done to his family in South Carolina, and his exasperation with Bush about his ridiculous tax cuts and he really wanted to talk to him about it, but he said the guy doesn't have the concentration, and you talk for 10 minutes and then the guy wants to talk about baseball." When asked whether he voted for Bush, Whitford recalled, "He put his finger in front of his mouth and mouthed, 'No way.' "
Richard Schiff, Whitford's former "West Wing" co-star: "My recollection, and I have to qualify this, because I'm not 100 percent sure he used this word, but my recollection is that McCain said that Bush was dangerous and he didn't trust him. Then this person said, 'Why did you support him?' And McCain said, 'It was my obligation as a Republican to support the Republican candidate.' And the person said, 'Did you vote for him?' And McCain said, 'No.' "
McCain toasted his Democratic rivals (yes, plural) at the Time 100 gala Thursday night: "Sen. Obama is a man of unusual eloquence who has performed the great service of summoning to the political arena Americans who once thought that it was of little benefit to them. Sen. Clinton has demonstrated great tenacity and courage. I count myself among their many admirers."
Saturday is Jenna Bush's wedding, down on the ranch. If you staked out your camera position approximately seven years ago, you'll get the money shot.
Per ABC's Claire Shipman, the wedding will be in the evening to avoid the heat, and it won't be black tie. "It will be small-ish for a president's daughter," Shipman reported on "GMA."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (and for our purposes, an uncommitted superdelegate), joins George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.
Add-on delegate alert: state Democratic conventions are being held this weekend in Utah, Massachusetts, Ohio, Colorado, Kansas, and California -- that's 12 new superdelegates to add to the mix.
Perfect for the undecided super: Do the general-election match-ups yourself, with ABCNews.com's new Electoral College calculator.
Obama resumes his campaign in Oregon, and Clinton will be in Oregon and Kentucky. Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also making news:
No endorsement yet, but the Center for American Progress and ACORN will announce Friday that former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., has agreed to head a public campaign on behalf of several progressive organizations to cut the nation's poverty rate, ABC's Teddy Davis reports. He joins his wife, Elizabeth, at CAP.
McCain wins the prize for best ad of the general election so far -- him and his mom, in a whimsical Mother's Day spot where they both have their "bearings." "He's not perfect. Did I say that?" 96-year-old Roberta McCain says in the ad.
The RNC is pretty sure who McCain is running against. New from the party: CanWeAsk.com, a site that "provides Americans with an opportunity to submit text or video questions for Barack Obama regarding the issues he has failed to address or refused to answer."
The DNC has some fun with McCain's ferry ride on the East River: "Turns out, McCain's tour will pass a series of landmarks he opposed funding for or even voted voted against," per the party.
No nominee? No problem. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel have decided to fill a void left by the seemingly endless campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination," the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman reports.
Emanuel "has made it a point of calling reporters who cover McCain's campaign several times a week," Zuckman writes. Says Emanuel, D-Ill.: "Given that we don't have a nominee at this point, I think it's worth reminding people that Bush-McCain is one word the same way Gingrich-Dole was one word in '96."
More McCain woes: "Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is struggling to attract money from some of the same industries that helped bankroll President George W. Bush's record-setting fundraising," Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant reports. "Employees from the securities, construction, pharmaceutical and energy industries, who accounted for about a tenth of Bush's money in 2004, are turned off by his record and giving more to his Democratic rivals, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama."
McCain is prepping for the fall: "In the three months since effectively capturing the Republican nomination, John McCain has built up his staff, filled campaign coffers and tried to define himself as a reliable conservative but not a George W. Bush clone," Laura Meckler and Elizabeth Holmes write in The Wall Street Journal.
Those Ron Paul (and Mike Huckabee) folks are making mischief, too: "Senator John McCain is sailing toward his coronation as the Republican presidential nominee while the Democratic candidates battle fiercely," Brian Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. "But Republicans also are engaged in some tough infighting that could disrupt the national convention and make it more difficult for him to unite the party in the fall."
"It's hard not to notice: In each of the last three Republican primaries, roughly a quarter of the vote went to someone other than John McCain," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.
"Since Sen. John McCain wrapped up the GOP presidential nomination on March 4, he has had some trouble bringing all of the party's voters into the fold," Dante Chinni writes in the Christian Science Monitor. "He hasn't broken 80 percent of the vote in the state primaries that have followed, including Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, or North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Senator McCain received just 73 percent of the Republican vote in a closed primary in which only registered Republicans were permitted to cast ballots."
Potentially big for the general: "During a private fundraiser last month, Sen. Barack Obama said he was "considering" voluntarily restricting the amount of money he could raise in a general election from campaign donors," Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports.
From the veeps-watch: Yes, that was Romney on CNN again Thursday, as a McCain surrogate, and it was him again later that evening at New York's Metropolitan Club, accepting the Becket Fund's Canterbury Medal for his defense of religious liberty. From his prepared remarks: "I gave a speech about religious liberty during the height of my campaign. This was not a speech I was forced to give, it was a speech I wanted to give. I felt that I had a unique opportunity to address in a very public way the role of faith in America."
"Upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity . . . an opportunity to clearly assert that non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty," Romney said.
"Thomas Jefferson called for this every now and then." -- Barack Obama's wonky clue for "Revolution," in a game of "Taboo" against reporters on his campaign plane Thursday night. (His team guessed it when he offered the clue that it was also the title of a Beatles song.)
"Abercrombie & Fitch." -- Obama's guess for the clue "this is where gay people shop," in that same game. (His teammate was trying him to say, "The Gap.")
"He's sort of a reverse Gatsby." -- Oliver Stone, on President Bush, with filming set to begin on "W."
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