The Note: Mountain Hazard

What happens when a race that's over doesn't act like it?

West Virginia doesn't change any games -- but the fact that the game is still being played is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory, at least for the day. If she needed any excuses to stick around a little while longer, she found them in a Mountain State landslide. (And if Republicans needed any excuses to go into outright panic mode, they found them in deep-red Mississippi on Tuesday.)

Clinton, D-N.Y., gets fresh ammunition for her final argument to the superdelegates -- and just maybe enough fresh cash to fund three more weeks of this.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., hits a 41-point speed bump on his road to the nomination -- a fresh reminder that there's something just plain missing from his appeal to Democrats. (And consider this a response in his "national conversation" about race -- don't say he didn't ask for it.)

One week after the press essentially declared him the nominee, two-thirds of Democratic voters in a swing state said thanks, but no thanks. It may matter approximately not at all in determining the nomination -- but as Obama looks toward the general, these are warning signs he can't hope away.

And with Clinton still trying to win this thing, she'll be there to remind him -- and the supers -- about it.

"Clinton advisers hoped the size of Clinton's victory and signs of dissatisfaction with Obama among West Virginia voters would reopen a conversation about who is the stronger Democrat to take on Sen. John McCain," Dan Balz writes in mapping Clinton's narrow road back, in The Washington Post. "They also hoped the results would tamp down talk that Clinton should consider dropping out of the nomination contest before the primaries end on June 3 to speed the process of uniting Democrats."

"It's like a shot of Red Bull to get her few these next couple weeks," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday (and maybe she's heard of the energy drink by now). "The problem is, it doesn't change the fundamental delegate math."

Obama still needs to win only about a third of the remaining delegates to capture the nomination; using the DNC's magic number of 2,025, he's just 140 delegates away from clinching, not counting Wednesday's superdelegate haul, per ABC political director David Chalian.

Obama remains the prohibitive frontrunner -- and is still on track to clinch a majority of pledged delegates next week. Whoever controls the next batch of supers controls the narrative of the days before then (and Obama rolls out the first ones Wednesday morning -- Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and Democrats Abroad Chair Christine Schon Marques, just to start the campaign's day out right).

"Grit, she's got. Numbers, she don't," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.

That meeting of top Clinton fundraisers Wednesday in Washington should at least be a little upbeat, given the the fresh talking points the stay-in-the-race camp is now armed with. But expect at least a few tough questions for the senator and her team.

We'll hear more about the popular vote -- Clinton's ahead again if (and only if) you count the less-than-clean contest in Florida and the downright meaningless tally from Michigan.

"Clinton is no longer resting her candidacy on the delegate count," Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore write in the Los Angeles Times. "She hopes to persuade party leaders, who hold the balance of power, that she would be the more electable candidate against McCain, based on her support among white, blue-collar voters who have not embraced Obama's candidacy in the same way as black, more affluent and better-educated voters."

At the very least, the campaign gets another week or three. USA Today's Susan Page calls Clinton's win "personally satisfying" for her -- but probably too late to matter. After lots of calendar-circling, mark down June 3, in pen.

"I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard," Clinton said.

It's hard to imagine many more wins this wide and deep, yet Clinton picked up only 12 additional delegates -- not enough to change the stubborn math. "Even if Mrs. Clinton won all the delegates in the remaining contests, a practical impossibility, she could not gather the delegates needed to win the nomination," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

"Her negligible payback in convention delegates illustrates why her rival and her party are turning away from her candidacy to begin the fight against Republican John McCain," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"The same demographic dynamics are expected to give the two rivals a split decision in the contests May 20 -- with Sen. Clinton favored in Kentucky and Sen. Obama in Oregon," Calmes writes. "But that will be enough, the Obama campaign expects, to give him a majority of the pledged delegates -- a milestone of sorts that Obama supporters will use to urge support from the remaining uncommitted superdelegates."

Says ABC contributor Matthew Dowd: "It's like a baseball game. Just 'cause you get a lot of hits doesn't mean you score runs. She has left too many men on base in last six months."

New Quinnipiac numbers don't give the Clintons all that much more to point to: Obama leads McCain 47-40 percent, while Clinton is up 46-41.

It's a mistake to look at the West Virginia results solely through the prism of the nominating fight -- and not just since Obama (flag pin now affixed for two straight days) is peering into the general already.

Inside Obamaland, you can blame racist voters, or Clinton legacy, or shrug it all off and point to the math -- or you can face the facts.

"The results highlighted the question of exactly how he will beat McCain in November, a question his campaign did not directly address in a memo released a few hours before polls closed," Politico's Ben Smith writes.

"The results on which the campaign is relying indicate that Obama does somewhat better with educated white independent voters than Clinton, making up for his deficit with working-class white voters. That's a demographic fact that could change the map in November, pushing Obama's campaign north and west, and posing problems for him in the crucial rust belt portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania."

"In a trouble sign for delegate-leader Barack Obama, barely more than half [of West Virginia primary voters] said they would vote for him in November if he is the party's nominee," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer reports.

"Two in 10 whites said the race of the candidate was a factor in their vote, second only to Mississippi. Just 32 percent of those voters said they'd support Obama against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, fewer than in other primaries where the question's been asked."

"It's just that Obama, well, this is awkward, but he's, um, black, and most voters aren't," Time's Michael Grunwald writes. "According to exit polls, one in four Clinton voters in West Virginia said race was an important factor in their vote, which is amazing in an era where people who think like that aren't supposed to admit it. Shouldn't they at least have pretended their issue with Obama was that he is an elitist?"

"Maybe the Obama camp should be more worried," the AP's Nedra Pickler writes. "The voters who went against Obama Tuesday night -- white, rural, older, low-income and without college degrees -- don't just live in West Virginia. They live everywhere in the country, in places Obama needs to win."

A win that might have changed the course in February might only delay the inevitable in May. Clinton continues to fight it out, and West Virginia surely helps in at least keeping some supers frozen, but the perception of the race having ended is powerful.

"This race, I believe is over," former DNC chairman Roy Romer told ABC's Teddy Davis Tuesday, in endorsing Obama. "Sen. Obama has accumulated a lead in delegates chosen by primaries, caucuses and superdelegates that cannot be overcome."

James Carville puts on his realist glasses: "I'm for Senator Clinton, but I think the great likelihood is that Obama will be the nominee," Carville said, per The State's John O'Connor. "As soon as I determine when that is, I'll send him a check."

(Who's guessing that check winds up getting pinned to a wall in Chicago instead of ever getting cashed?)

Clinton still has work to do inside her own campaign: She had to reassure AFSCME head Gerald McEntee on Tuesday, and Wednesday will bring more tough questions "at her Washington mansion during a series of meetings with donors and congressional superdelegates eager to learn her plans for the final three weeks of campaigning," Newsday's Glenn Thrush writes.

"It's getting harder to raise money," Clinton campaign finance chairman Alan Patricof tells Thrush. "The number of people you can go after is shrinking after 17 months." Per "a DNC member who raises money for Clinton": "Her money people are starting to say 'fold it' and she's needs to get them back in line."

The scope of Tuesday's victory gets adjusted for expectations: "West Virginia's demographics fit closely with those who have supported Clinton in other states. They include mostly blue-collar, white voters," Tom Searls writes in the Charleston Gazette. "With the state's small minority population, it has caused some political pundits to say race is a major part of the West Virginia presidential campaign."

"The scene at the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday night barely reflected the reality of Clinton's predicament, starkly evident to everyone but those gathered here," James Oliphant writes in the Chicago Tribune. "That truth: Even her overwhelming 2-1 win in West Virginia's primary is unlikely to do much to slow Barack Obama's march to the party's nomination."

"Hillary Clinton got to play the winner again Tuesday night with a symbolic victory in the West Virginia primary -- but her ultimate defeat only loomed closer," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News.

Even the five uncommitted supers in West Virginia aren't budging: "Sen. Hillary Clinton's convincing victory over Barack Obama in West Virginia won't change the state's superdelegate count, at least for now," Jake Stump reports in the Charleston Daily Mail.

That was Obama talking to white, working-class voters even as West Virginia polls were closing -- in the classic swing state (though not in a swing area) of Missouri. "Obama tried to divert attention from the defeat by starting his inaugural tour of general election swing states, holding an economic town hall at a clothing manufacturer in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in a largely white, working-class county Clinton won comfortably in the state's February primary," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe.

"Senator Barack Obama is floating somewhere between the two major phases of his long campaign -- a political limbo that brought him to this Republican hamlet on the night of a West Virginia primary he was expected to lose," Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times.

"His visit here with garment workers in a district that President Bush swept in 2004 was an intended show of strength, with Mr. Obama affecting the manner of a general election nominee raiding opposition territory, the birthplace of Rush Limbaugh no less."

Huge headline in the Southeast Missourian: "Obama Focuses on McCain."

But Obama capped a tough night off with a couple of gaffes, per ABC's David Wright and Sunlen Miller. "Obama posited -- incorrectly -- that Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan -- forgetting, momentarily, that Afghans don't speak Arabic," they report.

Obama then said that "agricultural specialists" are being diverted to Iraq instead of Afghanistan. "Iraq has many problems, but encouraging farmers to grow food instead of opium poppies isn't one of them," Wright and Miller report. "In Iraq, oil fields not poppy fields are a major source of U.S. technical assistance."

Obama turns his attention Wednesday to Michigan -- a symbolic stop where he's got substantive work to do. "Because Sen. Obama, who appears close to wrapping up the Democratic nomination, didn't compete in the Michigan primary, he needs to build from scratch the kind of political operation he has been assembling for months in other states," Doug Belkin writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"He also faces a state party that is sharply polarized, behind schedule and hamstrung by an ill-timed lawsuit," Belkin continues.

And: "Sen. Obama also has to navigate the tricky issue of how to deal with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The Detroit City Council voted on Tuesday to launch an effort to remove him from office over an alleged sex and perjury scandal."

The Detroit Free Press' Justin Hyde recalls Obama's most famous previous trip to Michigan -- the one he casts as his "Daniel-in-the-lion's-den moment" where he pressed automakers on fuel-efficiency standards. "Those refrains will echo today as Obama visits a Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, his first foray into the suburban center of the auto industry. Such statements may have helped Obama convince voters of his political courage, but they have left many industry insiders wondering why he cast Detroit as a heavy," Hyde writes.

And this: "The Illinois senator's retelling of his story has a few flourishes. While Obama has repeatedly said 'nobody clapped' and that his message was met with silence, the record from that speech from the Detroit Economic Club tells a different story. Obama won at least mild applause several times from the crowd of 2,000."

Watch for yourself.

Mississippi-1

Blaring sirens of trouble for the Republican Party emanate from Mississippi's First Congressional District, where association with Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., couldn't stop a Democrat from winning a deep-red Republican district.

"Democrats scored a remarkable upset victory on Tuesday in a special Congressional election in this conservative Southern district, sending a clear signal of national problems ahead for Republicans in the fall," Adam Nossiter writes in The New York Times. "The Democrat, Travis Childers, a local courthouse official, pulled together a coalition of blacks, who turned out heavily, and old-line "yellow dog" Democrats, to beat his Republican opponent, Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, a Memphis suburb."

The GOP tried to nationalize this one -- but the party got more than it bargained for: "Childers' success tonight could foreshadow the Democrats' ability in November to build on its majority in the House and compete in districts that in the past have been considered solid Republican turf," ABC's Karen Travers reports.

Your updated House count: 236-199 -- and remember that three is a trend. "It's becoming a disturbing trend for Republicans: losing traditional GOP strongholds to Democrats in some hard-fought congressional races," the AP's Emily Wagster Pettus writes.

It's a special-election trifecta -- and it should worry every self-respecting Republican. "Following on the heels of Democratic victories in special elections in Illinois' 14th district in March and Louisiana's 6th district 10 days ago, Republicans pulled out all the stops to try to hold on to [Roger] Wicker's seat, which should be a GOP stronghold," Washingtonpost.com's Ben Pershing writes. "President Bush won the district by 25 points in 2004; he won the Louisiana seat by 19 points and the Illinois seat by 11 points."

The Sked:

As Sen. Obama hits Michigan, his wife follows Chelsea Clinton into Puerto Rico.

Bill Clinton campaigns in Montana and South Dakota, while Sen. Clinton takes her message national: She sits down for interviews with all the network and cable evening news shows.

McCain is a guest on "Live" with Regis and Kelly -- a warm-up of sorts for his "Saturday Night Live" cameo this weekend.

President Bush's Middle East trip began with an early-morning meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

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

The money race:

Mostly behind the scenes, Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are trying to freeze out 527 groups before they get really going, Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear report in The Washington Post. "Obama's top fundraisers have asked his campaign donors to refrain from contributing to liberal independent political organizations in hopes of controlling the tone and message of the general-election campaign," they write.

"The McCain campaign has been less organized than Obama's in its efforts to counter the groups, but the senator from Arizona has made clear his antipathy toward them -- without much effect."

(Indeed -- good luck with that.)

The AP's Jim Kuhnhenn unpacks some of the legal burdens that will impact any Clinton effort to repay her loans to her campaign. "Hillary Rodham Clinton will have to deal with her campaign's more than $20 million debt -- a step that could test her relationship with Barack Obama and raise new issues in campaign finance law," he writes.

"Among her options is transferring that debt to her Senate campaign committee and paying it off with contributions to her 2012 re-election effort. But, for the short term, many Democrats believe the answer lies with Obama and his vast network of contributors."

(Who wants to pony up to make sure Mark Penn is paid in full?)

There's a deadline: "A 2002 campaign-finance law bars candidates who drop out of the presidential race from collecting more than $250,000 after their party's conventions to recoup personal loans," per USA Today's Fredreka Schouten. "If Clinton doesn't raise the cash by the time Democrats meet Aug. 25-28 in Denver, her $11 million in campaign loans could become donations to her campaign."

McCain and the Pastor

Pastor John Hagee is apologizing -- sort of -- for his colorful remarks about the Catholic Church. Hagee wrote a letter saying "he now knew the terms he used to describe the church, such as 'the great whore,' were 'rhetorical devices long employed in anti-Catholic literature,' " Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times. (Who might have delivered that shocking news?)

"The letter was issued after weeks of conversations between Mr. Hagee and Roman Catholic Republicans about repairing the damage to Mr. McCain's campaign and the alliance built over many years between conservative Catholics and evangelicals," Laurie Goodstein writes in The New York times. "Mr. McCain said Tuesday that he had not been involved in brokering the apology letter from Mr. Hagee, a megachurch pastor in San Antonio who broadcasts to 200 countries, but that he found it 'a laudable thing.' "

Et Cetera:

What does Hollywood do? Variety's Ted Johnson sees a new Left Coast power center emerging if Obama captures the nomination: "His ascendancy signals a shift to a different and relatively younger pool of fund-raisers and donors, altering the industry's center of political gravity as to who hosts events, who has access to the candidate and the top campaign players, and who commands the time and attention," Johnson writes.

"If Obama is the victor, it will set off a delicate dance to bring the Clinton team into the fold," Johnson writes. Hollywood is clear-eyed -- for la-la land, naturally: "There is a sense of reality settling in, that it will be really hard for her to pull this one out. But they are not giving up," said Marge Tabankin, executive director of the Streisand Foundation.

Matt Bai has a fascinating New York Times Magazine take on McCain's foreign policy coming Sunday, focusing on this key insight connecting the dots from Vietnam to Iraq: "McCain is the outlier. Among his fellow combat veterans in the Senate, past and present, he is the only one who has continued to champion the war in Iraq," Bai writes. "There is a feeling among some of McCain's fellow veterans that his break with them on Iraq can be traced, at least partly, to his markedly different experience in Vietnam."

"Ultimately, McCain is relying on the same strategy to achieve success both in Iraq and in the November election," Bai writes. "In each endeavor, McCain is staking everything on the notion that the public, having seen the success of a new military strategy, can be convinced that the war is, in fact, winnable and worth the continued sacrifice. Absent that national retrenching, McCain admits that this war, like the one in Vietnam, is probably doomed."

President Bush goes into detail on his war-time sacrifices, in an interview with Politico's Mike Allen that seems destined for a MoveOn.org spot (and Michael Moore's got some old footage): "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," the president said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

This on his decision to withdraw from Kyoto: "I don't think you want your president trying to be the cool guy and not end up with policies that actually make a difference." (Cool?)

The Kicker:

"Where -- where'd they go, the people with my money?" -- Hillary Clinton, scrambling to pay for the scoop of espresso Oreo and scoop of butter pecan she ordered at Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream, per The Washington Post's Dana Milbank (who calls Clinton the "ex-candidate").

"Dana Carvey." -- President Bush, asked which is better: Will Ferrell's impression of him, or Carvey's impression of his father.

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