Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton just needs to move the goalposts -- if only Sen. Barack Obama would stop scoring touchdowns.
Among everything that John Edwards might bring to Obama -- working-class voters, an establishment stamp of approval, contributing to the sense of inevitability about his nomination -- nothing is more important than this: He changed the storyline.
In a week that Clinton, D-N.Y., was hoping to slow things down, Obama, D-Ill., managed to speed them up.
This is how to lose a primary in style: A 41-point drubbing became smiling pictures of two former rivals. Clinton's evening-news victory lap got bumped by Obama and Edwards -- in a masterstroke of political timing that leaves Camp Clinton glum and scrambling, as if West Virginia had never happened.
Try to get clearer than this: "Americans have made their choices," Edwards, D-N.C., said at Obama's side in Michigan, "and so have I."
More immediately, the Democratic Party is making its choice -- and it's not just Edwards: NARAL Pro-Choice America chose the same day to announce its endorsement of Obama. It was not based on any issue, but on the extreme likelihood that Obama, not Clinton, will be the Democratic nominee.
As the pieces fall into place, will a wave of uncommitted superdelegates now stand and say, "No, he can't"?
Timing matters: "The declarations from Edwards and the National Abortion Rights Action League hit Clinton just as she sought momentum from her 41-percentage-point victory in Tuesday's West Virginia primary," Scott Helman writes in the Boston Globe. "The Democratic Party, meanwhile, has begun to rally around Obama as the presumptive presidential nominee."
One very prominent Democrat thinks the battle is done: "It adds one of the most influential Democratic voices to the chorus of party leaders who have concluded that Obama, despite the fact that five primary contests remain, is the de facto nominee, and that now is the time to begin unifying the party behind him," Helman writes.
It's way too easy to overvalue endorsements -- Edwards isn't even a superdelegate! -- but surely there was a reason that no other Democrat was as actively courted by Obama and Clinton (up to and including Al Gore).
It's a "dramatic move that brings Obama ever closer to donning the party's crown," Michael Saul and David Saltonstall write in the New York Daily News.
The endorsement boosts "Mr. Obama's efforts to rally the Democratic Party around his candidacy and [offers] potential help in his efforts to win over working class white voters in the general election," Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times. "A Southerner, he had directed his candidacy at the same white and working class voters Mr. Obama is trying to woo."
"The message to superdelegates: Edwards was content to let the race play out. Now, he's not. He wants this over. And you should too," per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.
Even James Carville is impressed: "It certainly helps in terms of psychology of the superdelegates," Carville told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday.
"Obviously it is something that's good for Sen. Obama -- I wish he would have endorsed Sen. Clinton -- but I'm not sure how much it's going to translate into votes."
"Barack Obama advanced his drive to unite the Democratic Party behind his candidacy for president Wednesday by winning the long-sought endorsement of vanquished rival John Edwards at a boisterous rally," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"The announcement was a blow to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose bid for the Democratic nomination appears all but lost, and brought Obama a welcome distraction from his landslide defeat Tuesday in the West Virginia primary."
Oh yes, the storyline: "This comes on the heels of 48 hours of an intense media spotlight (and much discussion since the April 22 PA primary) focused on Barack Obama's apparent troubles wooing white working class voters to his campaign in large numbers," ABC's David Chalian writes in handicapping the impact of the move. "Edwards can likely serve as a high profile validator for Obama with those voters."
Can Edwards do what beer and bowling could not?
"At issue is whether Edwards's endorsement will fundamentally alter the way in which working- class voters view Obama," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes. "Will Edwards' backing help in that cause? Sure. . . . But, his endorsement alone does not -- and will not -- drastically affect the race."
Edwards has 19 pledged delegates who are now free agents, including one, Joshua Denton, an Iraq war veteran from New Hampshire, who told the AP he now plans to support Obama.
Obama, on the inevitable question of running mates, on board his campaign plane Wednesday night: "I think John Edwards is obviously someone who would be on anybody's short list."
Edwards has said "absolutely not" to a second cycle as No. 2, but The New York Times' John Sullivan and Julie Bosman report an intriguing tidbit: "privately, he told aides that he would consider the role of vice president, and favored the position of attorney general, which would appeal to his experience of decades spent in courtrooms as a trial lawyer in North Carolina; and his desire to follow in the footsteps of Robert F. Kennedy, one of his heroes."
Then there's NARAL, where the nine-member board (which includes a Clinton superdelegate) made the unanimous decision to endorse Obama after last week's primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. "A political organization always looks at viability -- who has the most delegates, the most votes, and the most cash on hand," Elizabeth Shipp, NARAL's political director, tells ABC News.
"We want people to know, 'It's OK, we trust [Obama.]' "
The clock is running on the only big name left: Al Gore. "Edwards is the latest in a line of party leaders who have fallen in behind the Illinois senator as he piled up victories over Hillary Clinton in nominating contests," Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Kristin Jensen write.
"Since the beginning of May, three former Democratic National Committee chairmen -- Roy Romer, Paul Kirk and Joe Andrew -- were among the more than 40 superdelegates who endorsed Obama."
Wednesday's movement added another sharp angle or two to the complicated bank shot that is Clinton's path from here.
She doesn't make the basket without Michigan and Florida: "We can't be sending a nominee to our convention based on only 48 states; that would be a grave error," Clinton told ABC's Charlie Gibson. "And particularly these two states that are so important to our electoral chances in the fall."
Was this a threat? "People have gone to conventions and fought out nominations with far fewer delegates," she told CNN.
Was this a hint? On the possibility of accepting a spot as Obama's running mate: "I have said I will do whatever I'm asked and whatever I can do to make sure we win November," Clinton told CBS. "But it [is] presumptuous and premature for either one of us to be talking about that kind of decision. It has to be considered once we have a nominee. Which I'm sure it will be. But I'm gonna work my heart out. I will do whatever I can to make sure we win the White House."
Said Carville, on "GMA": "I think she wants to be president. . . . I think she's going to go through this thing to the end. And I know that when you're doing something like this, you're not thinking vice-anything."
Her victory lap cut short, it was an early evening at Whitehaven -- Clinton's Washington residence -- as she tried to keep her top donors in the fold. "The Clinton campaign was hosting a meeting with about 45 or 50 financial supporters this afternoon in Washington to make her case to them and ask them to continue raising money -- even as signs mount that she may not continue in the race beyond the last primary on June 3," ABC's Kate Snow and Eloise Harper report.
On the Hill, Clinton used a meeting "to drive home the point that she is more competitive with [blue-collar voters], and in districts where Democrats will face their toughest races this fall," Alexander Bolton writes in The Hill. "Clinton's whips were instructed to do everything they could to keep uncommitted superdelegates from making endorsements, despite pronouncements by many analysts that Obama has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination."
"I don't want to overdramatize it, but starting with Ohio the remaining superdelegates started really focusing on the 270 electoral vote issue and how do we best assemble that and it's made a marked impression," one Clinton adviser told ABC's Kate Snow.
But: "I'm not sure it's gonna be enough."
Her response to the Edwards endorsement: "She said that it was not unexpected and it wouldn't have any impact," money man Hassan Nemazee tells Newsday's Glenn Thrush.
It could all come down to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which meets May 31 in Washington to consider how to handle Florida and Michigan. The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye: "Among the 30 panel members, 13 have declared support for Mrs. Clinton and 8 have declared for Senator Barack Obama. Seven others are neutral or have not declared, although some of their fellow members perceive at least four as leaning toward Mr. Obama. The co-chairmen have not endorsed anyone."
Careful, here: "[Obama's] campaign hopes that the question becomes moot, and plans are afoot for Mr. Obama to claim the nomination on May 20, when the Oregon primary is expected to give him a majority of pledged delegates," Seelye reports.
Careful, here, too: "I never thought it would be the Democratic party that didn't want to count votes in Florida. I thought that was a Republican strategy," former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday, ABC's Sarah Amos reports.
Anyone seen the Republican brand?
"The Republican defeat in a special Congressional contest in Mississippi sent waves of apprehension across an already troubled party Wednesday, with some senior Republicans urging Congressional candidates to distance themselves from President Bush to head off what could be heavy losses in the fall," Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse write in The New York Times.
Among the implications: "The result in Mississippi, and what Republicans said was a surge in African-American turnout, suggested that Mr. Obama might have the effect of putting into play Southern seats that were once solidly Republican, rather than dragging down Democratic candidates."
It's not just another loss -- it's another loss in a red part of a red state, despite the accumulated efforts of GOP honchos. "The GOP spent one-fifth of its available national party cash for House races on the Mississippi seat," Jim Tankersley writes in the Chicago Tribune.
"Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned there. President George W. Bush and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain pitched in with automated phone calls. Their candidate lost anyway."
What happened to party unity? "House Republicans turned on themselves yesterday after a third straight loss of a GOP-held House seat in special elections this year left both parties contemplating widespread Democratic gains in November," Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane report in The Washington Post.
"In huddles, closed-door meetings and hastily arranged conference calls, some Republicans demanded the head of their political chief, while others decried their leadership as out of touch with the political catastrophe they face."
Up for another go-around at the NRCC? "In a 20-page memo distributed to Members, [Rep. Tom] Davis wrote that without a meaningful change of course, Republicans stand to lose another 20 House seats and up to six Senate seats," Roll Call's Lauren W. Whittington reports.
Wrote Davis, R-Va.: "The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006 when we lost thirty seats (and our majority) and came within a couple percentage points of losing another fifteen seats."
Next time, Google the new slogan before printing the bumper stickers. "Change You Deserve" is the House GOP's freshly minted mantra -- and also a trademark for the antidepressant Effexor XR. Per the Baltimore Sun's Matthew Hay Brown, "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer projected a list of the drug's side effects, and highlighted a few: nausea, headaches and drowsiness." Said Hoyer, D-Md.: "Democrats, not drugs, is what the people need."
Karl Rove issues a little less blame -- and exudes a little more hope -- than some others inside the GOP. "What is clear is that John McCain and Republicans will prevail only if they convince voters that there are profound consequences at stake in Iraq, and that more and better jobs will follow from the GOP's approach of lowering taxes, opening trade, and ending earmarks and other pro-growth policies," Rove writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks on Thursday from 2013, so these excerpts have been released really far in advance: "The Iraq War has been won," McCain will say (mission accomplished?), according to excerpts of the remarks issued by his campaign. "Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension."
Also: Osama bin Laden has been subject to "capture or death" (nifty trick), there have been no more terrorist attacks on US soil, and Congress stopped including earmarks in bills because members are sick of his vetoes.
Per ABC's Bret Hovell: "The style of the speech -- in which the presumptive Republican nominee will list the things he hopes to have accomplished at the end of his first term -- reads like his current stump speech, but with verbs in the past tense."
(If he does win, this will make for a handy first-term retrospective piece in late 2012.)
The Web ad to accompany the speech includes this line: "Border security strengthened."
Sen. Clinton visits South Dakota, while Bill Clinton works Kentucky. Obama is down, in Chicago.
McCain visits us from the future with a 10 am ET speech in Columbus, Ohio.
President Bush has a full day in Israel, including a speech to the Knesset and dinner with the prime minister.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Obama may be headed for another disastrous showing in Kentucky, but he is making an effort in the state: "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign has ramped up its efforts to emphasize his Christian faith in a series of new radio and television ads," Ryan Alessi writes in the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Flag-pin watch: Make it three days in a row on Obama's lapel.
Obama didn't want to answer a question, not at that time, but he's got to work on his brush-offs: "Hold on one second, sweetie," he said to a female TV reporter in Detroit. He apologized by voice mail: "That's a bad habit of mine. I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front."
Obama sums up the challenges of his candidacy in a few sentences, in an interview with Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley: "If you think about the characterizations, I started off as not black enough. Then I was too black. Then I was too inexperienced and too professorial. . . . Then I've only relied on speeches and charisma. Then I'm a Muslim. . . . Then I'm a Christian, but my pastor's crazy."
Time for some positioning: "The centrist Democratic group instrumental to former President Clinton's rise to the White House in 1992 has some advice for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: get to the center, starting with taxes," ABC's Teddy Davis reports.
Who says 2008 can't be 1988? "The Republicans are facing an uphill battle against a fresh-faced Democrat for a third term in the White House, and they are reaching for a familiar playbook: crime," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla reports.
ABC's Marcus Baram looks at those flies named Bob Barr and Ron Paul who are buzzing around McCain: "McCain's nomination may be certain, but he finds himself pressured by different wings of the conservative movement -- from the libertarians and the anti-war activists, to social conservatives and evangelical voters," Baram writes.
Would President Bush like a Mulligan? Liberal groups are waking up to the politics of golf, Bush style. In the wake of the Politico interview where the president said he gave up golf "in solidarity" with families of service members, expect to hear more of that quote. "For President Bush to imply that he stands in solidarity with these families because he quit a game is an insult," said Brandon Friedman, vice chairman of VoteVets.org.
The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley profiles McCain brain Mark Salter: "Early signs are that Mr. Salter will urge a feisty campaign -- in character for a man who once wrestled a persistent critic of the senator to the floor of a congressional hallway." Says Salter: "I'm not vicious, just emphatic."
"Dick Cheney was as dangerous to Republican candidates as to his hunting partners." -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., after Democrats' special-election pickup in Mississippi.
"He's probably right." -- Hillary Clinton, responding to Rep. Charles Rangel's saying that her reference to "hard-working Americans, white Americans" was the "dumbest thing" she could have said.
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