The Note: Dream Maker?

Fear not: The race is still very much alive -- for vice president.

Sen. Barack Obama can rightly claim a (pseudo-)victory on Tuesday, but if Kentucky comes in like we expect, it may not be a pretty sight.

If Obama backs into the nomination on a losing streak, then stares down a general election with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backers angry and disillusioned -- and, critically, if Clinton really wants the No. 2 job -- would he be able to give it to someone else?

If Clinton really does covet a spot on Obama's ticket, what better way for her to earn it than by closing out strong?

(And now that Clinton sees her campaign as a quest to beat back sexism, how can she end it until the end itself?)

Tuesday figures to again bring the extraordinary spectacle of the all-but certain nominee getting his hide handed to him by a candidate with little realistic chance of winning the nomination. Clinton, D-N.Y., is the overwhelming favorite in Kentucky, with Obama, D-Ill., enjoying a smaller edge in Oregon.

Yet the optics won't match the returns, and try unpacking this: After another week where Clinton is/isn't attacking her rival, Obama will/won't declare victory Tuesday in Iowa -- and then the candidates head to Florida Wednesday, a state that has/hasn't already voted (and they have very different motivations for being there).

Polls opened at 6 am ET in Kentucky and close at 7 pm ET, with 51 pledged delegates at stake. "If anything, the battle between Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York only intensified," Joseph Gerth writes in the Louisville Courier-Journal overview.

Oregon will make it a late night: Voting is by mail, and ballots must be deposited by 11 pm ET; 52 pledged delegates will be awarded Tuesday. "An election-day voter stampede is expected to propel Oregon's highest primary turnout in 20 years, state officials projected Monday," Amy Hsuan writes for The Oregonian.

Obama enters the day needing 18 delegates to clinch the majority of pledged delegates; his magic number for the 2,026 needed for the nomination shrinks to 111 with the endorsement of Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan, per ABC's delegate scorecard -- not going to happen Tuesday, barring a flood of supers.

This is fragile (and potentially flammable) stuff: Obama and Clinton are pushing alternate takes on who's winning and who's best-positioned to win, and are continuing to appeal to different segments of the party. Yet they both know the calendar and the math, and know that whether or not Obama wants Clinton on his ticket, he'll need her (and her supporters) once he secures the nomination -- and fast.

"The situation is delicate," Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy write in The New York Times. "Mr. Obama does not want to appear as if he is pushing Mrs. Clinton out of the race, preferring instead to treat her gracefully as a worthy Democratic fighter, not as a stubborn nemesis."

It's settled: Despite some mixed signals, Obama won't be saying he's won the nomination when he speaks in Iowa Tuesday night to commemorate the nice-sounding but ultimately meaningless threshold of clinching the pledged delegate race. And Clinton won't be saying too many things that reflect poorly on the man basically everyone knows will be the Democratic nominee.

"The reality is that both sides have declared an effective cease-fire as they prepare to bring the party together," The Washington Post's Dan Balz writes. "While she presses forward, aides say she is determined neither to be pushed from the race prematurely nor to be seen as doing anything to damage Obama's prospects of winning in November if he emerges as the nominee. . . . Her advisers say that a major reason she does not want to be pressured out of the race is that she believes it will be easier to bring her supporters over to Obama once the primaries are over if they think she was able to finish the nomination battle on her own terms."

Writes Balz: "Although the Democratic race appears headed for a predictable outcome, the next few weeks could determine how rapidly and fully the party comes back together. Clinton and Obama both have to play their parts carefully."

(Does that include right of first refusal on the ticket? Or is that just a dream?)

As for why she stays in the race, here's one more big insight: Clinton tells The Washington Post's Lois Romano that she's had to face "sexist" media coverage: "It certainly has been challenging given some of the attitudes in the press, and I regret that, because I think it's been really not worthy of the seriousness of the campaign and the historical nature of the two candidacies we have here," she said.

For the record, she has not seen racism in equal measure: "The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted, and . . . there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head," Clinton said. "It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists."

Clearly, now, she's in until the end: "It's important I finish what I started," she tells The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley and Amy Chozick.

"However, faced with growing pressure to drop out of the race, Sen. Clinton is getting hit with conflicting advice from within her own camp," Langley and Chozick write. "Some of her top strategists are warning that she is injuring her political future by staying in. Others -- notably her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and strategist Mark Penn -- are urging her to remain in the race."

This from a campaign operative: "The campaign has broken down to those who drink the Kool-Aid that Hillary can still win, and those who don't, and are considering their options." And this from an "important backer": "There will be no more million-dollar events."

(Guess who's offering encouragement -- not just on "Saturday Night Live"? "Last week [Sen. John McCain] called to congratulate her for continuing to win big contests and told her he admired her 'courage and grit,' " they write. Said Clinton: "We're friends.")

She's in through June 3 -- but it won't necessarily be pleasant. "It could be the longest two weeks of her campaign," ABC's Kate Snow reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "It's not just TV commentators: Her own staffers now talk in terms of when it will be over, not if."

This can't be a good sign: "Hillary Rodham Clinton's former campaign manager and confidante, Patti Solis Doyle, and Sen. Barack Obama's top adviser have informally discussed the former Clintonite's going to work for the Obama campaign in the general election," Politico's Ben Smith scoops.

(Obama strategist David Axelrod, confirms to the New York Post that there have ben talks, but "it's not like there's been offers proffered or positions created. It's not even close.")

She fights on: "The last thing we need is somebody who gives up and quits as our next president," she said Monday in Kentucky, ABC's Kate Snow, Sarah Amos and Eloise Harper write. They report: "Voters who spoke to ABC News said they would stick with Clinton in the Democratic presidential race until the end and expressed anger at the media for 'writing her off.'"

Said Clinton on the trail Monday: "This is nowhere near over."

But it won't feel that way Tuesday, even if the voting brings another one of those now-familiar splits.

Obama's milestone means something, and not just to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who've called this first and foremost a race for delegates. "Though not assuring Obama of the nomination in August, the achievement would signal that victory is near in his hard-fought battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton," Nicholas Riccardi and Stuart Silverstein write in the Los Angeles Times.

But he's got to be careful not to push: "Premature victory laps and false declarations of victory are unwarranted. Declaring mission accomplished does not make it so," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson writes in a memo (it'd been a while -- welcome back).

Her strategy Tuesday may remind you of last week's, or the week before. "Clinton is still hoping that a stronger-than-expected showing in the remaining races -- including today's primaries in Oregon and Kentucky, with a combined 103 pledged delegates up for grabs - will convince superdelegates that she would be the stronger nominee in November against Senator John McCain," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.

Her latest argument cites Karl Rove: "Electoral maps put together by the consulting firm helmed by Karl Rove, and obtained by ABC News, show Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, to be a stronger general election candidate in a hypothetical general election match-up against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., than Sen. Barack Obama," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

This time, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank casts the former first lady as Knight Clinton (remember your Monty Python): "'More people have voted for me than have voted for my opponent,' she says, adding in Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot. She shoots again, this time using the unreal conditional: 'If we had the same rules as the Republicans, I would be the nominee right now.' She rebounds and fires another: 'The states I have won total 300 electoral votes. My opponent has won states totaling 217 electoral votes.'"

The latest on the "dream ticket": "Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) allies in Congress do not want Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as his running mate," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports.

"Obama's congressional backers say former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) or former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) would be the better choice. Some are wary of putting Clinton on the ticket because they believe she has run a racially divisive campaign."

What to watch for Tuesday, per ABC's Karen Travers: "Obama's support among women and white voters in Oregon. . . . Turnout in Kentucky's cities. . . . Turnout in Oregon's cities vs. small towns." And -- of course -- pay attention to those uncommitted superdelegates.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, gets his wish: Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., has spent that time with his family and has decided not to seek another term. From the statement out Tuesday morning: "After a great deal of consideration, I have made the decision not to seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives this November. This choice was an extremely difficult one, balanced between my dedication to service to our great nation and the need to concentrate on healing the wounds that I have caused to my wife and family."

The McCain Lobby Dance:

When good campaign ideas go bad: Sooner or later, this drumbeat of McCain resignations over lobbying ties is going to take a toll.

"Sorting out the lobbying entanglements of his campaign advisers is proving to be a messy business for Senator John McCain," Barry Meier and Kate Zernike write in The New York Times. "Mr. McCain's political identity has long been defined by his calls for reducing the influence of special interests in Washington. But as he heads toward the general election as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he has increasingly confronted criticism that his campaign staff is stocked with people who have made their living as lobbyists or in similar jobs, leaving his credentials as a reformer open to attack."

Obama sees an opening: He said voters should be concerned that "after nearly three decades in Washington, John McCain can't see or won't acknowledge what's obvious to all of us here today -- that lobbyists aren't just part of the system in Washington, they're part of the problem," Matthew Mosk and Michael D. Shear report in The Washington Post.

Mosk and Shear: "Obama's attacks on Monday -- and the McCain campaign's fast retort -- underscore how both candidates plan to take aim at K Street lobbyists and the influence they peddle at the White House and in Congress. The two men are essentially competing to be known as the anti-lobbyist candidate."

Charlie Black told reporters that he never lobbies candidates for whom he's working -- but Politico's Mike Allen reports that that's maybe not quite accurate. "Lobbying filings show that in 2003 and 2004, Black's firm lobbied the Defense Department, State Department and Executive Office of the President on behalf of the Fluor Corp., a U.S. contractor in Iraq," Allen writes. "And the filings show that in 2004, Black's firm lobbied the Executive Office of the President on behalf of Occidental Petroleum Corp. on Middle East trade and energy issues."

Per The Wall Street Journal's Mary Jacoby and Elizabeth Holmes: "One issue that isn't clear is the nature of [campaign manager Rick] Davis's private-sector work before he joined the McCain campaign. Mr. Black told reporters that neither Mr. Davis nor anyone else at his firm 'has been a registered lobbyist in five years.' The campaign later said it was three years." launches a new campaign targeting Charlie Black on Tuesday.

And so the general election continues. McCain knows how to fight back: He was in Chicago Monday to blast Obama's "inexperience and reckless judgment," taking issue with his claim that Iran is not as serious a threat to the US as the Soviet Union once was, ABC's Bret Hovell reports.

"The charge from McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, advanced a heated ongoing battle of words over how the new president should navigate the tricky shoals of Middle East diplomacy and laid the rhetorical foundation for an issue that almost certainly will be revisited in the coming months," Tim Jones and John McCormick write in the Chicago Tribune.

The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos: "Barack Obama may still be proposing policies that strike conservatives as weak and foolish. But after his aggressive response to President Bush's apparent criticisms of his foreign policies last week, it's clear that he's doing so in a forceful and politically savvy way."

McCain is set to hit Obama over Cuba policy Tuesday in Miami: "Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it," he plans to say, per his campaign. "He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators -- there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy."

ABC's Jake Tapper writes up McCain's shifts to the center -- including his appearance on "Ellen" (where the host is now engaged to be married) on Thursday. "The fact that McCain is reaching out to DeGeneres' viewers -- an act that would have been close to unthinkable during the Republican primaries -- is indicative of how the conservative Republican is attempting to pivot towards the political center and reach out to independent voters and Democrats, while his would-be opponents continue to battle it out in the five remaining Democratic primaries," Tapper reports.

The flip side of all that McCain media access? "While McCain enjoys an image as a media darling, based largely on his bantering relationship with reporters on his bus, he and his presidential campaign aides have been hitting back hard against high-profile news reports they regard as inaccurate or unfair," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reports. "The result is a more contentious relationship between the presumed Republican nominee and major news organizations than is publicly apparent."

How's this for an argument-ender? "Whether he's deflecting criticism over his health-care plan or mocking a tribute to the Woodstock music festival, Senator John McCain has a trump card: the Hanoi Hilton," Bloomberg's Ed Chen writes.

The Sked:

Clinton spends election night in Louisville, Ky., while Obama hits Des Moines to mark a milestone in a place he once celebrated a big one.

McCain campaigns in Miami -- ahead of the Democrats, who hit Florida Wednesday.

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

Odds & Ends:

Obama's warning shot to his wife's critics was an interesting move -- but don't look for big consequences. The DNC is still targeting Cindy McCain over her tax records, and spouses are here to stay in American politics.

Responds the Tennessee GOP, per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul: "If Sen. Obama thinks that his wife can go out there and make campaign speeches and yet somehow be immune -- or be off limits -- to criticism for the things she says in campaign speeches on his behalf, then, he's just wrong."

Surely what's good for Bill Clinton is good for Michelle Obama?

"No matter the outcome of the presidential election, the contest has served to permanently vault Michelle Obama from relative obscurity to fame, as she has taken on major fund-raising and surrogate speaking roles on behalf of her husband, even phoning superdelegates to try to close the deal for him," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Michelle Obama has her own chief of staff and press secretary, and campaign advance staffers handle her larger events, where she has turned out to be a significant draw in her own right."

Getting some play in Washington State: "Democrat Barack Obama was stumped this weekend when a woman asked him about cleanup at the nation's most contaminated nuclear area: the Hanford site in Washington state where scientists helped create the atomic bomb," per the AP's write-up.

The White House went nuclear on NBC News: "White House Counselor Ed Gillespie sent a scathing letter to NBC News President Steve Capus criticizing the editing of Richard Engel's interview with President Bush in the Middle East amongst other comments made on NBC News," ABC's Jennifer Duck reports. (And don't miss the fact that the letter went out as a "Setting the Record Straight" press release to the full White House press list.

Congressional races Tuesday: "Democrats are battling for the right to face Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, while Republicans are looking for a candidate to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.)," per The Hill's Aaron Blake.

Kennedy Update:

"US Senator Edward M. Kennedy will probably remain at Massachusetts General Hospital a couple of days more while doctors try to determine the cause of the seizure he suffered Saturday, a spokeswoman said yesterday," Michael Levenson reports in The Boston Globe. "Stephanie Cutter said it is likely the 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat will then take a few days off at his home in Hyannis Port. She said it was too soon to discuss when he might return to work; the Senate is in recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday."

The Kicker:

"I like my new name Barack Black Eagle. I mean, that's a good name." -- Barack Obama, many miles from swirling a Yuengling or rolling a gutter ball, receiving the honorary name "Awe Kooda bilaxpak Kuuxshish" from members of the Crow tribe in Montana.

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