The Note: Fades and Fortunes

How does one have a conversation if nobody's talking back anymore?

To the pundits, the math, and Sen. Barack Obama, we add Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's toughest foe yet: irrelevancy.

A week that should bring another split decision will also bring another Obama milestone: He's likely to clinch a majority of the pledged delegates, which, like just about everything, matters only really in how the supers view it. (Will it bring a Pelosi premium? And/or will it make hubris Obama's toughest foe?)

Your symbolic bookends for two campaigns headed in two different directions: Obama, D-Ill., capped his Sunday with a record crowd in Portland, Ore. -- 75,000 people crammed into a park and floating in kayaks and canoes not to see a football game or a rock star but a politician. ("Wow. Wow. Wow," said the orator.)

Clinton, D-N.Y., on Sunday spent an hour listening to a sermon based on Matthew 5:27-32 -- on lust and adultery. ("How is your commitment level in your marriage this morning?" said the pastor.)

Clinton -- running on some combination of fumes, inertia, and grit -- may yet stay in the race through May 31, June 3, or even longer. But the general election, it seems, has simply started without her.

"Barack Obama is hoping a strong showing in Oregon's Tuesday primary will finally slam the door on Hillary Clinton's bid for the presidential nomination," Matt Phillips and Amy Chozick write in The Wall Street Journal.

"With the fresh memory of Sen. Obama's loss last week in West Virginia -- where Sen. Clinton took 67% of the vote -- the Obama camp is also working to cut into Sen. Clinton's base of support among white working-class and rural voters in Oregon."

"Obama needs just 21 of the 103 delegates at stake [Tuesday in Oregon and Kentucky] to achieve a majority of pledged delegates," ABC's Tahman Bradley reports. "However, Obama will not be able to reach the magic 2,026 number of delegates needed to secure the nomination because he holds 1,904 delegates overall, according to ABC News' estimate."

"The prospect that Obama might clinch the nomination this week could change if the Obama campaign has a large number of superdelegates tucked in their back pocket, or if enough uncommitted superdelegates are ready to move on, feeling like the people have spoken and their choice is clear."

Either way, Tuesday will mark an important date in Obama's trajectory: "We will have a majority of the pledged delegates," Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Monday. "Obviously we won't have completed the nomination process because we'll still be a little bit short. . . . But I think it's an important milestone for our campaign."

And he laid down this marker for his foes: "I do wanna say this to the GOP: If they think that they're gonna try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful," Obama said, tagging efforts to take his wife's words out of context as "low class." "Because that I find unacceptable. The notion that you start attacking my wife or my family -- you know, Michelle is the most honest, the best person I know."

"These folks should lay off my wife. Alright? Just in case they're watching," he added (only slightly smiling).

(How does this square with the DNC's regular blasts at Cindy McCain, over her refusal to release her tax returns?)

Obama plans to spend his election night Tuesday in symbolically/electorally significant Iowa -- to (sort of) close it out where it all began, get it?

"We thought it was a terrific way to kind of bring things full circle," said Obama, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

The visit is "a nod to the state where he notched his first 2008 victory on a night when he is expected to tighten his grip on the nomination," Thomas Beaumont writes in the Des Moines Register, adding that his rally in downtown Des Moines will be near his old campaign headquarters.

"Much more than nostalgia seems to have motivated that decision," Larry Rohter reports in The New York Times. "If things continue to go as well for Mr. Obama this week as they have so far this month, with a romp in North Carolina, a strong showing in Indiana and daily growth in his support among party superdelegates, he could actually end up with enough pledged delegates to proclaim, without fear of contradiction, that he is now the Democratic nominee for president."

Actually, that's not how Democrats choose their nominees. "Declaring mission accomplished doesn't make it so," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson tells the New York Post's Charles Hurt. (Hint: Florida and Michigan still matter, too.)

"I do think Sen. Obama has to be careful as to how much he makes Tuesday's likely achievement a victory lap," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "He hasn't won yet, Clinton is still in the race, and even if her victory is improbable, it is not impossible."

And contradictions are the least of Obama's worries -- how about convalescence?

How it ends matters: "Mrs. Clinton's all-but-certain defeat brings with it a reckoning about what her run represents for women: a historic if incomplete triumph or a depressing reminder of why few pursue high office in the first place," Jodi Kantor writes in The New York Times. "The answers have immediate political implications."

Geraldine Ferraro says she may not vote for Obama: "I think Obama was terribly sexist," she tells Kantor.

This means up-for-grabs voters. "Obama aides say the campaign will reach out to wary women by stressing how he owes much of his success to strong women. . . . He'll reinforce that even though he may not be Hillary, he's voted like her," Newsweek's Suzanne Smalley writes. "The McCain camp believes Hillary backers -- working-class white women and independents, in particular -- could migrate to McCain rather than to Obama."

The legacy of this history-making race isn't history itself: "A Democratic race that a couple of months ago was celebrated as a march toward history -- the chance to nominate the nation's first woman or African American as a major-party candidate -- threatens to leave lingering bitterness, especially among Clinton supporters, whose candidate is running out of ways to win," Krissah Williams writes in The Washington Post. "At least for now, many on both sides said they have been too put off and have become too embittered to pull together for the party if their candidate isn't on the ballot."

The money people get that. "Top fundraisers for Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have begun private talks aimed at merging the two candidates' teams, not waiting for the Democratic nominating process to end before they start preparations for a hard-fought fall campaign," Matthew Mosk and Chris Cillizza write in Sunday's Washington Post.

"In small gatherings around Washington and in planning sessions for party unity events in New York and Boston in coming weeks, fundraisers and surrogates from both camps are discussing how they can put aside the vitriol of the past 18 months and move forward to ensure that the eventual nominee has the resources to defeat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November," they write.

Worth reading all the way to the end for this big hint: "There's gale-force pressure for Obama to choose a Clinton loyalist as a running mate to heal the party but avoid putting her and her formidable baggage on the ticket," said one "Obama ally."

"Talk of a joint war chest comes as the two candidates prepare for an expected split decision in the primaries being held Tuesday," ABC's John Hendren reports.

Usually there's a reason that people with money make money -- it helps to know a winning proposition. "Hillary Clinton's top donors are starting to jump ship, and increasingly they're paddling -- checkbooks in hand -- toward rival Barack Obama," David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News.

"The review of campaign finance data found that in March alone, some 113 top Clinton funders -- namely those who had already given her the maximum $2,300 allowed by law -- switched sides and gave to Obama for the first time."

Morale at Camp Clinton? The Daily News' Ken Bazinet: "Devoted Hillary Clinton campaign staffers used to sit at their desks thinking out loud about landing plum White House jobs. Now they curse out loud at TV pundits declaring her candidacy's imminent end."

Yet she's got her devotees: "Watching women excitedly approach Hillary Clinton here, sometimes in family groups spanning three generations, clutching her autobiography, hoping for an autograph or handshake, was a vivid reminder that, regardless of which candidate ultimately captures the Democratic presidential nomination, it will be a transformational moment in American politics," James Oliphant writes in the Chicago Tribune. "Given her brave face, it isn't surprising that her supporters didn't see the end coming soon."

If this week is about closing out the primaries, it's also about looking to the general for Obama. He's now gone three straight days attacking Sen. John McCain, the Los Angeles Times' Nicholas Riccardi writes. "The intensified criticism of McCain came as the Obama campaign signaled that it had shifted its attention to the general election, and that it considered the Illinois senator's bruising Democratic nomination battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton nearly over," he writes.

The fight is on -- as refereed by President Bush, whose broadside in front of the Knesset last week launched all manner of stories saying that the general election has begun.

Said Obama, jumping on the latest lobbyist to resign from the McCain campaign: "It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington."

McCain fights back -- and brings William Ayers along with him. "Aggravated over persistent questions surrounding their new policy on lobbyists working for the campaign, Team McCain sought to change the topic tonight by raising Barack Obama's ties to a 60s-era radical," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

Clinton is now running against the press, again. "What I am hoping is that on Tuesday you're going to send a real message to a lot of those folks who didn't want you to vote, who don't want me to keep fighting for you and fighting for our country," she said Sunday, per ABC's Eloise Harper.

She's still saying she has the popular vote -- and saying it's more important to show you can win than to actually be winning. "My case can really be can boiled down to two simple propositions. I believe I will be the best president, and I believe I will be the stronger candidate to take on John McCain," Clinton said in Kentucky Sunday night, Harper reports. "What we have is a very close contest where I'm leading in the popular vote. Where my opponent has an advantage in the delegates. But where ultimately the decision must rest on who can win."

With big institutional players falling into line, Clinton's argument gets harder to make: "The New York senator's final argument is Clintonesque, consistent with past examples of her husband running against his own party, as he did to win re-election in 1996," Gannett's Chuck Raasch writes. "She's using her tenacity -- her unwillingness to give in -- as part of a strong closing argument that despite Obama's lead in a long and hard-fought campaign, she is the Democrats' best hope against Republican John McCain in November."

Obama goes into this phase with a new shield on his suit jacket: "The flag pin that appeared on Barack Obama's lapel is just the opening salvo of Operation Patriotism for the Democratic presidential candidate," Julianna Goldman writes for Bloomberg News. "Obama plans to use speeches and campaign events to reinforce his patriotic image to America by evoking his grandparent's military background. He also plans to speak sometime this summer near Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, where his grandfather is buried."

Obama on "GMA," on the flag pin: "I've had so many supporters, a lot of them veterans, who have been handing me flag pins, saying, 'Barack, we know how patriotic you are. And, you know, do us a favor. We would appreciate it if you wore it.' Partly just -- not because I think they wanted proof of patriotism, but they wanted the issue taken off the table."

In the meantime -- will Oregon answer Obama's demographic questions? "Obama has had difficulty connecting with working class whites whose support he will need to win in November and whose votes presumptive Republican nominee John McCain will target," Joseph Williams writes in The Boston Globe. "More significantly, because Oregon is a battleground state for the fall, a good showing among blue-collar voters would help Obama demonstrate he can bring them into his coalition."

Speaking of the fall: "Democrats gained more than 100,000 new voters on the statewide registration rolls," Peter Wong reports in the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal. "In Marion County, they pulled slightly ahead of Republicans, the first time that has happened in 20 years."

More of what we'll hear in the general election: "Three prominent Democrats yesterday rejected Sen. Barack Obama's position of meeting unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leaders of other American enemies," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times. "Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado and former Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee distanced themselves from Mr. Obama's position, each saying that preconditions for any such meeting would be essential."

"Republicans are seeking to exploit a divide among Democratic leaders over Senator Obama's pledge to meet rogue leaders personally and without preconditions if he becomes president," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun.

Elizabeth Edwards is OK with the sidelines: "If you listened to what I said and not to what pundits said I was thinking, you would know that I was never inclined to endorse," Edwards wrote in an e-mail to Politico's Kenneth T. Vogel Sunday.

Obama adds another superdelegate: Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz made his support official late Sunday, per's Bryan Bissell.

And another PLEDGED switcher from Clinton to Obama: DC City Council member Jack Evans in changing his vote, Washington City Paper reports.

McCain's Lobby Dance

Helped by that new lobbying policy, it's getting easier by the day to score the good muffins at McCain staff meetings.

McCain loses another one, and he's a biggie: "John McCain's national finance co-chairman has stepped down, the latest casualty of a presidential campaign eager to cauterize damage caused by its ties to lobbyists," AP's Jim Kuhnhenn writes. "Former Texas Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler, one of McCain's key fundraisers, resigned in the wake of a new McCain policy on conflicts of interest that required campaign volunteers to disclose their lobbying connections."

This is what really made him have to go: "In one filing available on a Justice Department website, Loeffler disclosed that on May 17, 2006, he had a 'meeting with Sen. John McCain and Prince Turki to discuss the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and U.S.-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relations,' " Dan Morain writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Turki was then Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. The website gives no indication that Loeffler's firm has ceased representing Saudi Arabia."

"He is the fifth person to sever ties with the campaign amid a growing concern over whether lobbyists have too great an influence over the Republican nominee," The Washington Post's Michael Shear writes. "McCain shrugged it off, saying that the creation of the new conflict-of-interest policy should solve the problem. But McCain's Democratic rivals and their allies have jumped to exploit his troubles.

McCain values his money men: "Mr. Loeffler's departure is arguably the most significant because of his reputation as a successful fund-raiser," Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "He was named to his finance-committee position in December 2006 and is credited with helping the campaign limp through its cash-strapped implosion last summer."

It may not be over yet: "A few others are expected to leave within the week, according to outside campaign advisers," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

Loeffler's exit is just a tiny reason why McCain needs money badly enough that he's going to have to put President Bush -- and, especially, the RNC -- to work for him.

"Mr. McCain is likely to depend upon the party, which finished April with an impressive $40 million in the bank and has significantly higher contribution limits, to an unprecedented degree to power his campaign, Republican officials said," Michael Luo and Mike McIntire write in The New York Times.

"To that end, Republican officials said they were enlisting President Bush, a formidable fund-raiser who has raised more than $36 million this year for Republican candidates and committees, for three events on Mr. McCain's behalf. They will appear together at a fund-raiser in Phoenix on May 27, and the next day the president will take part in a luncheon with Mitt Romney in Salt Lake City and then an exclusive dinner at Mr. Romney's vacation home in Park City, Utah."

New from the DNC: McCain oppo under one new roof -- it's McCainpedia.

New from the RNC: a Web video on Obama and taxes (full employment for composers of vaguely scary music).

The Kennedy Scare

That was quite a tense few hours in Massachusetts over the weekend. The latest on Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., from The Boston Globe's Noah Bierman and Brian R. Ballou: "Kennedy spent yesterday watching baseball and movies from his hospital room, as doctors tried to determine what caused the seizure that prompted national concern over the political icon's health. That meant another day of anxious waiting for Kennedy's family and friends, along with a public that has closely followed the family's political and personal narrative for generations."

They continue: "Kennedy's doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital has said it would be until at least today before tests would offer greater insight into the senator's health. Kennedy's inner circle would not commit to a timeline for making those results public. It is uncertain when Kennedy will be able to resume his busy political schedule."

Kennedy's father-in-law tells the Boston Herald that the senator wanted to go sailing over the weekend -- but his doctors, of course, said no. Of his daughter's worries, Edmund Reggie said, "She was concerned. She said, 'He works too hard. He works too long.' "

Kennedy got to watch two Boston victories Sunday -- the Sox won, and the Celtics took Game Seven over Lebron and company. Per spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, he's getting antsy in the hospital and wants to get back to the Senate -- but with more tests to run he's unlikely to be released before Tuesday at the earliest.

Annals of GOP Angst:

George Packer chronicles "The Fall of Conservatism" in the new New Yorker, and finds a younger generation of conservatives "in a state of growing revulsion at the condition of their political party" -- and predicting a well-deserved rout. Says Yuval Levin, a former Bush White House official, says, "There's an intellectual fatigue. . . . The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody quite agrees what to do about it."

Great sentence from Packer: "The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing -- despite being despised by significant voices on the right -- shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces."

Those three straight House-seat losses won't force a resignation from House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, or campaign chief Tom Cole, R-Okla., Boehner told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week." "My job is to help bring all the members together and lead them, and show the American people that we can deliver the kind of changes that they deserve," Boehner said.

Columnist Robert Novak sees the farm bill telling the story of what ails the GOP: "A majority of both Senate and House Republicans voted for a bill that raises spending 44 percent above last year's, dooming chances to sustain President Bush's promised veto. GOP leaders were divided, with Bush sounding an uncertain trumpet. Today's Republican Party -- divided, drifting, demoralized -- is epitomized by the farm bill."

The bad news gets worse: "The number of Republicans leaving Congress will cost the GOP millions of dollars in party-building funds for the fall congressional elections, campaign-finance records show," Brian Kalish writes in USA Today. "Of the 32 Republicans who have resigned or announced plans to retire, 26 have political action committees known as leadership PACs -- which members of Congress typically use to make donations to colleagues facing tough campaigns. Those 26 PACs raised $17 million in the last campaign cycle, but only $5.3 million for this election."

The Sked:

Clinton hosts rallies in Lexington and Louisville, looking to repeat her West Virginia swamping, while Obama meets with voters in Montana.

McCain speaks before the National Restaurant Association in Chicago on Monday, where he'll pledge to help Obama serve out his Senate term. He plans to attack on trade, per excerpts released by his campaign: "Senator Obama is fond of scolding others for engaging in the 'old-style politics,' but when he plays on fears of foreign trade he's resorting to the oldest kind of politics there is. It's the kind of politics that exploits problems instead of solving them, that breeds resentment instead of opportunity."


Michelle Obama won't deny the "dream." "There is no way that I would say 'absolutely not' to one of the most successful and powerful and groundbreaking women on this planet," she said on "GMA" Monday. "What I have said is that I think one of the things that the nominee has earned is the right to [is to] pick the vice president that they think will suit them. And to that end, I don't want to have any say in it."

Bloomberg's Al Hunt doesn't believe in the "dream": "Just picture the stage on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 28: Barack, Michelle, Hillary . . . and Bill. Sorry," he writes.

Hunt continues: "For Obama, here's a good bet for a shortlist: former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, a favorite of the party's conservative wing; current Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden; Reagan's former Navy secretary and now Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg."

"McCain's list would include former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, even with their frosty personal relations during the presidential campaign; Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty -- if he can avoid silly moments like talking on a radio show about his lack of a sex life with his wife -- and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman."

Nothing shy about him: Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on "This Week": "Anybody that's asked by their nominee to be their running mate, you'd have to consider it. How could you just blow it off?"

Nothing shy about him, either: "There's no one I would rather be on a ticket with than John McCain," said former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., on "Meet the Press."

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said he's "not that interested."

The Kicker:

"That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair.  He was getting ready to speak.  Somebody aimed a gun at him and he . . . he dove for the floor." -- Mike Huckabee, in a remark he quickly apologized for, at the NRA convention Friday.

"Certainly someone who is very, very, very old." -- John McCain, musing on what the country needs in its next president, on "Saturday Night Live."

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