The Note: Secrets of Letting Go

If what we learned from MacArthur applies to politicians as well as old soldiers, it's only a matter of time before the Clintons fade away.

If what we learned in third grade applies to presidential candidates as well as schoolyard bullies, ignoring Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton might make her go away.

(And if what we learn from watching politics matters at all anymore, you can't run a campaign without any money -- and no uncommitted superdelegate will want to be the last one on a train that's firing its way out of a hopeful station.)

But what if the old rules don't apply to Clintons? And even if they do -- what happens in the stretch of time before they kick in?

Even if the Clintons watch their words these next few weeks, Clinton is almost certainly asking Democrats to vote against their nominee before they vote for him (and they will, in large numbers, starting Tuesday in West Virginia).

Even if Sen. Clinton goes quickly and quietly when the voting is done, the damage until that point is real (it's not like the Republicans are taking this time off) -- and there's nothing quick or quiet about what's going on.

Clinton is heavily favored to win West Virginia, and Sen. Barack Obama doesn't seem to care very much; in the week since Indiana and North Carolina, he makes his first and last campaign stop there on Monday.

Unless the superdelegates change their minds -- and fast -- even wide Obama losses will matter approximately not at all -- except that they might, just not in the way Clinton hopes they will.

"The toughest question for Hillary Clinton now is not if she drops out of the presidential race, or even when. It's how," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "Does she go down swinging at Democratic rival Barack Obama until the final primary on June 3, forcing Obama to spend precious time and money along the way? Or does she edge off the presidential stage more gracefully, looking for common ground with her fellow Democrat while focusing her barbs at presumptive GOP nominee John McCain?"

Hillary is sticking around: "It's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is," she said Sunday, quoting a message she said she got from a supporter, per ABC's Eloise Harper.

The only mother in the race was the only candidate who didn't take Mother's Day off: "This is an awkward phase in a long campaign. Mrs. Clinton has not quite given up her quest for the nomination, and Mr. Obama has not quite finished his," Katharine Q. Seelye writes in The New York Times. "But if Mrs. Clinton is to have a chance, her campaign understands the importance of invigorating her most loyal and passionate supporters -- the women who see her as sharing their interests and aspirations."

Bill Clinton isn't exactly traversing common ground, not by firing up class divides in West Virginia. "What purpose does it serve for him to barnstorm a state like West Virginia and tell rural voters that Obama and his elitist political/media cabal allies are mocking Appalachia?" ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "He's using the kind of language Democrats typically use against Republicans -- as in, stuff you say when you don't want voters to vote for the other guy under any circumstance. This is tough stuff to walk back from."

(Imagine the pain with which the former president uttered these words: "I also wanna say, on instructions [!!!!], I've been a Democrat all my life," Clinton said Saturday in Montana, per ABC's Sarah Amos. "I'm here to tell ya that however these last states come out, my candidates, our family and our supporters will be here to get a victory in November for the Democrats.")

Why she fights: "With nearly everyone -- including, privately, many on her own team -- contemplating when, not if, she will quit the race, the questions surrounding Clinton now go largely to her motivation," Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. And David Axelrod doesn't seem ready to write any checks: "I don't think even under any scenario . . . that we were going to transfer money from the Obama campaign to the Clinton campaign."

No (easy) way out: "Clinton is balancing a range of considerations: her bank account; her political future and the party's; her need to win back Obama's supporters, particularly African-Americans; and her need to keep faith with voters in her own (nearly) half of the party, many of whom have grown to dislike her rival," Politico's Ben Smith writes.

"And so her options range from swift and gracious (although time is running out on that one) to the political version of Custer's last stand: taking a losing hand to the Democratic National Convention in August."

"Any chance that Obama might ask Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his running mate depends on how these last few weeks proceed -- very, very sensitive weeks," ABC's Jake Tapper reported Monday on "Good Morning America." "Democrats are also worried about the damage the Clintons are willing to do to Obama as they exit."

Think the endgame has the party concerned? Warned former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., on "Face the Nation": "I think the one thing that [Clinton] has to be careful about . . . is that, if she makes the case for herself, which she's completely entitled to do, she has to be really careful that she's not damaging our prospects, the Democratic Party, and our cause, for the fall."

Some nudges can't hurt. Edwards: "You can no longer make a compelling case for the math."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.: "At this point, Barack is the presumptive nominee."

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.: "I don't believe that there is any way that she can win the nomination."

Michael Dukakis: "He's going to get the nomination within the next month or so."

Here's more of a shove. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., talking with Bloomberg's Al Hunt about why the "dream ticket" is sort of a nightmare: Obama would be better off with someone who "is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people," Kennedy said. "And I think if we had real leadership -- as we do with Barack Obama -- in the number-two spot as well, it'd be enormously helpful." (Ouch -- though his staff says the comments weren't a swipe at Clinton.)

And this is just clumsy: "Glenn Close should have stayed in that tub," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.

Yet the comments remain, for the most part, gentle -- the Clintons having earned the right to get out on their own terms (though those terms surely have limits).

"Breaking up is hard to do, especially when the other person doesn't want to say goodbye," writes Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune, finding Democrats to be "torturously deferential" in their comments about what Clinton should do and when she should do it.

Why it's not easy to go: "The Clintons have been here before, you see. They're being impeached all over again," Michael Crowley writes for The New Republic. "Surviving impeachment didn't just require savvy tactics; it required defiance."

On the superdelegate front, Obama closed out the weekend plus-6, while Clinton netted zero -- her sole pick-up negated by a defector. Since last Tuesday's non-tie split, Obama has added 19 new supers, while Clinton has netted one.

(What's the over-under on this Monday? Five new super-D's for Obama? Six?)

Obama strategist David Axelrod thinks the end is near: "I think you're going to see people making decisions at a rapid pace from this point on," he said.

It leaves Obama's delegate lead at a mammoth 175, per ABC's delegate count -- a chasm Michigan, Florida, and a whole lot of hoping won't close. (There are only 250 uncommitted superdelegates left.)

With numbers like that, does the fact that there's still an active campaign even matter?

The Sunday New York Times buries Clinton in a cloak of strategy: "Even before Mr. Obama fully wraps up the Democratic presidential nomination, he and Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, are starting to assemble teams in the key battlegrounds, develop negative advertising and engage each other in earnest on the issues and a combustible mix of other topics, including age and patriotism," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny wrote Sunday.

"These decisions by Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama to look ahead to the fall reflect their conclusion that it is only a matter of time before Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York steps away from the fight for the Democratic nomination," they write.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants his party to "relax" -- for now: "After that June 3rd date arrives, I think that Obama and Clinton will have a few days to make their case to the uncommitted delegates, and then the decision will be made, and we'll have a five-month general election," Reid told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."

But Obama can do better than to finish off the primary season on a losing streak. "Number of convincing explanations the Obama campaign has given for why he won't be competitive with Clinton in West Virginia: 0," writes Mark Halperin of Time and ABC News.

The challenge is on: "If Barack Obama wants Hillary Clinton out of this race, beat her. Beat her in West Virginia, beat her in Puerto Rico, beat her in Kentucky," Clinton communications chief Howard Wolfson said on "Fox News Sunday."

The only argument Clinton has left: "I believe we will be ahead in the popular vote," campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said on "Meet the Press."

Wonder why Obama may lose by 40 points Tuesday, even as he coasts to the nomination? First quote in the Financial Times story on West Virginia's primary, from a lifelong Democrat: "I heard that Obama is a Muslim and his wife's an atheist." Says another Democrat: "He doesn't understand ordinary Americans."

It could be just as ugly a week later, in Kentucky. "U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton enters the final week before Kentucky's May 20 Democratic presidential primary with a commanding 27 percentage point lead over U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a new poll shows," Ryan Alessi reports in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

From that same poll: "More than one in five likely Democratic voters surveyed said being black hurts Obama's chances of winning an election in Kentucky, compared to 4 percent who said Obama's race helps him. More than half of respondents said Obama's race isn't a factor in the upcoming May 20 primary. But many still said the racially charged remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright will play an important role as they decide whom to support."

There may be voting in West Virginia on Tuesday, but Obama will be in . . . Missouri. "Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama will visit Cape Girardeau on Tuesday, his first trip into rural Missouri's Republican territory and welcome news to his most prominent Missouri supporter, Sen. Claire McCaskill," Jo Mannies reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Obama would clearly rather not be campaigning at all: "At the most personal level, it denies Obama the rest he badly needs," David Broder writes on the lingering campaign, in his Washington Post column. "Beyond that, the iron law of politics is that time lost can never be completely recovered. . . . Those supercautious superdelegates ought to understand how precious time is in every campaign."

Republicans are paying attention: "Keep an eye on West Virginia," Pat Buchanan writes in a Union-Leader op-ed. "The votes Hillary gets, and the way she gets them, may provide a road map for how the GOP can hold the White House this fall, if they are not too squeamish to follow it."

The general-election battle is already joined, whether or not Camp Clinton wants to recognize it. "Swift Boat times five on both sides" is how one McCain adviser describes the likely Obama-McCain clash, to Newsweek's Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas.

Says Floyd Brown (he of "Willie Horton" infamy): Obama is "extremely vulnerable" on Tony Rezko and Bill Ayers. "I'm kinda like in a candy store in this election," Brown says.

"Unlike McCain, Obama has been fighting a two-front war, trying to beat back an onslaught from Clinton while taking opening shots at McCain. Recently Obama has started focusing more squarely on the presumptive Republican nominee, attacking his positions on the war and the economy," the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman writes. "But because of the long, bruising Democratic campaign, McCain has gotten an early jump."

Clinton can claim some (but surely not most) of the credit for the fact that Obama doesn't need an opponent to display some vulnerabilities. "When Democratic strategists and other analysts look ahead, they don't see race as Barack Obama's biggest challenge," the Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus and Peter Wallsten write. "They worry more, they say, about other issues: Will swing voters view him as too young? Too inexperienced? Or too liberal?"

McCain is well on his way in his (re-)migration to the political center. Monday brings a speech in Oregon on climate change, with an appearance at a wind-power facility. McCain "plans to renew support for a 'cap-and-trade' system that 'sets clear limits on all greenhouse gases, while also allowing the sale of rights to excess emissions,' " USA Today's David Jackson writes.

McCain plans to cite visual and scientific data for global warming, and makes his split with the president explicit: "Our government must strike at the source of the problem -- with reforms that only Congress can enact and the president can sign," he plans to say, per excerpts released by his campaign.

More McCain: "We know that greenhouse gasses are heavily implicated as a cause of climate change. And we know that among all greenhouse gasses, the worst by far is the carbon-dioxide that results from fossil-fuel combustion. Yet for all the good work of entrepreneurs and inventors in finding cleaner and better technologies, the fundamental incentives of the market are still on the side of carbon-based energy. This has to change before we can make the decisive shift away from fossil fuels."

The man of the middle: "McCain is shifting his attention to independents and Democrats, with proposals on climate change," Laura Meckler and Stephen Power write in The Wall Street Journal. "In a sign of Sen. McCain's potential appeal to environmentally conscious voters, a top official at the Sierra Club, one of the nation's most influential environmental groups, said the group might not endorse any candidate for president."

Rhetoric aside, there's his voting record, which "shows an inconsistent approach to the environment: He champions some 'green' causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others," Juliet Eilperin writes in a Washington Post survey of his environmental record.

Some breaks are a step too far: McCain wants voters to know that he definitely, positively did vote for President Bush in 2000 and 2004: "It's nonsense," McCain said, per ABC's Jan Simmonds and Jennifer Parker, responding to Arianna Huffington's allegations to the contrary.

For a candidate who should be rested as they come, he's hardly on cruise control.

ABC's Teddy Davis has the details on a possible McCain flip-flop, on whether to change a party platform plank that calls for an ironclad ban on all abortions. "That would be political suicide," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "I think he would be aborting his own campaign because that is such a critical issue to so many Republican voters and the Republican brand is already in trouble."

McCain blasted then-Gov. George W. Bush over the issue, and reaffirmed his commitment to changing the platform to include exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother last August, Davis reports.

Two McCain campaign aides resigned over the weekend "after media reports brought to light their ties to a lobbying group that once represented the military junta of Burma," per ABC's Jan Simmonds.

Then there's McCain's problems among evangelical voters -- and Robert Novak uses his column to stir that pot. "One experienced, credible activist in Christian politics who would not let his name be used told me that Huckabee, in personal conversation with him, had embraced the concept that an Obama presidency might be what the American people deserve," Novak writes. "That fits what has largely been a fringe position among evangelicals: that the pain of an Obama presidency is in keeping with the Bible's prophecy."

And yet . . . McCain may be all that's standing in the way of a GOP wipeout this fall, Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes. "In a delicious irony, the one bright spot is McCain," he writes. "This is turning history on its head. Not long ago, the independent-minded McCain was vilified by his party's leaders."

Obama campaigns in Charleston, W.Va. (at last) on Monday, before quickly heading to Kentucky in advance of his plan to spend the West Virginia primary day in Missouri.

Clinton has a full West Virginia schedule, and stays in the state Tuesday night for a celebration in Charleston. Bill Clinton's rural road show works its way through Oregon Monday.

McCain talks climate change in Portland, Ore., at 3:30 pm ET.

Also in the news:

Could these town-hall-style, moderator-free debates really work? Both sides seem to like it: "Should I be the nominee, if I have the opportunity to debate substantive issues before the voters with John McCain, that's something that I am going to welcome," Obama said, responding to a trial balloon launched by Team McCain.

McCain adviser Charlie Black told ABC's Ron Claiborne that it's a "great idea." Per Claiborne and Sunlen Miller: "The events would not necessarily involve a moderator or taking questions from reporters as has usually been the format for the dozens of Democratic and Republican debates over the last year."

The Chicago Tribune's Jim Tankersley comes up with some ground rules, including the one that's most likely to get a staff veto: "Shutter the 'spin room.' Seriously -- no traveling entourages at the debate or immediately outside, no surrogates dispatched to the networks to claim victory after each event. Keep the focus on the issues."

Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant and Timothy J. Burger find one good argument for Obama to pay off Clinton's debts: "Should Clinton fail to come up with the funds by the Democratic convention in August, she'll be out the $11 million. If she quits the campaign before then, she may find it hard to get people to keep giving cash just so she can retire her debt," they write. "That may ratchet up pressure on Clinton to cut a deal with rival Barack Obama to help her through his supporters. Obama may oblige since he would love to get her out of the race for the nomination so he could focus on the general election."

Politico's Jonathan Martin scores an e-mail interview with Rush Limbaugh, who's emboldened by what he's seen (and done) in this election so far: "If anything, my impact will increase with a McCain presidency," Limbaugh wrote. He added, mischievously: "One of my next objectives is to try and convince Republicans to cross over and vote for McCain down the road."

Newt Gingrich weighs in with some advice for Obama, on working the Hill: "Can you find five big changes that are substantive, popular -- and can rally Democrats from the House and Senate to join you on the Capitol steps in September or October?" Gingrich writes in Newsweek.

"If you cannot, you should question if you'll be able to deliver on your 'change' slogan. Your campaign advisers may not care about that. Their instinct will be to win the election and leave the difficulties of governing up to you. But if you want to be a genuine historic agent of change 'we can believe in,' then you have to look beyond Election Day."'s new ad for Obama -- "Obamacan" -- is the selection of a Hollywood A-list that includes Ben Affleck, Oliver Stone, Matt Damon, Naomi Wolf, and Julia Stiles, per ABC's Lindsey Ellerson.

The Washington Times' Jerry Seper has more on Clinton White House documents: "Hillary Rodham Clinton's Rose Law Firm billing records, found in the White House residence in January 1996 two years after they had been subpoenaed by government regulators, disappeared shortly after the first lady was warned that the firm's billing problems were 'very serious' and the then-ongoing Whitewater investigation could result in criminal charges, newly obtained records show."

From the Bush wedding: "The more than 200 family and friends were entertained by the Tyrone Smith Revue, a 10-piece party band from Nashville, Tenn.," AP's Deb Riechmann reports. "The musicians gave the newlyweds what Smith described as a 'get down' party."

"The word is that the groom's former boss, Karl Rove, was among the guests who were present to see the couple exchange vows as the sun set over the lake at the president's Prairie Chapel Ranch," Alan Peppard writes in The Dallas Morning News. "Former Dallasite and Bush White House insider Karen Hughes was also there."

It was a blast to cover, we hear. "Mostly, the press corps is overtired and grim from picking like vultures over the same shreds of recycled wedding info the White House has doled out," Julie Mason blogs for the Houston Chronicle. "Tonight we got a briefing confirming some things that many already knew. There were some new deets -- like the wedding attire is suits for men, not black tie. Bushie will be happy about that, at least."

The wedding, in pictures, at

The kicker:

"I've now been in 57 states? I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii, I was not allowed to go to even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it." -- Barack Obama, clearly tired, or eager to really change the electoral map.

"Sore loser, racist supporters, no ethical standards -- qualities Sen. Obama simply cannot match." -- Amy Poehler, as "Hillary Clinton," in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch Camp Clinton probably won't be quoting.

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