The Note: Reaching for Sunshine

Among the cruel ironies of campaign '08: The candidate who was winning right up until the voting started to count would now be winning again -- if only the voting still counted.

Another lopsided loss -- albeit tempered by a simultaneous victory, and yet another boffo fundraising month -- wasn't the way Sen. Barack Obama wanted to set up his triumphant speech Tuesday night in Des Moines.

Again Obama loses a state in a landslide (35 points) despite his near-coronation. Again it matters just about not at all in terms of the nomination -- yet more than Obamaland wants to concede when it comes to the general election.

So it is with a clearer-than-ever picture of the obstacles before him that Obama, D-Ill., stands ready to claim the Democratic nomination. And it's with disappearing arguments about the match-ups and the math with which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., continues to try to stand in his way.

This is what the precipice looks like: With Clinton's blowout in Kentucky, and Obama's solid win in Oregon, Obama clinched a majority of pledged delegates, ABC's Karen Travers reports.

He now stands just 70 delegates away from capturing the nomination (and 190 ahead of Clinton), per ABC's delegate count. He can afford to stumble his way past the finish line if he has to: He needs just 23 percent of the outstanding delegates to get to 2,026, ABC's political unit calculates, and he'll almost surely get there June 3, unless the supers move him there sooner.

"Within reach," is how Obama described it in Iowa, mustering all the symbolism a presidential candidacy is capable of in returning to the site of his biggest victory.

"The Democratic presidential race is all but over," the AP's Nedra Pickler and Beth Fouhy write. "The only real issue is whether [Obama] and rival Hillary Rodham Clinton leave the race with their futures -- and their party -- intact."

(What does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who said in February there would be "a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided" -- say now? How many supers were math majors?)

"The Democratic Party has never denied the nomination to the person who won the most pledged delegates in all the contests," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported Wednesday on "Good Morning America." "And the superdelegates are not going to do that for the first time, with the first African-American candidate to reach that milestone. There would be a revolution if they did. So unless some kind of lightning strikes, Sen. Obama is the nominee."

Obama's delegate edge is now an "all but insurmountable advantage," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "Even as Mr. Obama moved closer to making history as the first black presidential nominee, he stopped short of declaring victory in the Democratic race, part of a carefully calibrated effort in the remaining weeks of the contest to avoid appearing disrespectful to Mrs. Clinton and alienating her supporters. Instead, he offered lavish praise for his rival over 16 months."

Next up: "He was planning a vigorous schedule of travel to general election states and a voter registration drive focusing on black voters to offset any losses among whites. Aides said he was considering delivering another speech to deal with damage in the primary because of attacks on his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., as well as on his patriotism," Nagourney and Zeleny report.

And this: "Barack Obama is quietly planning to take over the Democratic National Committee and assemble a multistate team for the general election, the latest sign that he is putting rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and the nomination fight behind him," the AP's Pickler writes.

Your possible new DNC chief: Paul Tewes, "one of the leading architects of Obama's success in the marathon Democratic primary race," Pickler reports. (What ever happened to not declaring victory prematurely?)

First, Florida: The Sunshine State is oddly critical to both Obama and Clinton at this point -- far more important than any of the three jurisdictions still to vote. Obama needs Florida as he pivots to the fall in a key state he's almost entirely ignored, and Clinton needs it as she grasps that last sliver of electoral possibility -- getting those disputed delegations seated and settled (in her favor).

"The Sunshine State's election results remain both in limbo and capable of changing the shape of the race," The Hill's Sam Youngman writes.

Not good to start off the general election with Florida painted red: "Obama must overcome real challenges to win Florida's 27 electoral votes, and his tentative schedule seems to acknowledge that, as he's reaching out to key demographics," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times.

"In the Iowa contest, he transformed the electorate by mobilizing new and younger voters, a tactic that helped him win in unexpected states and has brought him to the cusp of the nomination," Peter Wallsten reports in the Los Angeles Times. "Now, with a three-day swing through Florida, Obama begins his effort to organize his way to victory in November. Nowhere will that be more daunting than Florida, a Republican-leaning battleground state where Obama has not appeared in public for many months."

In case Obama needed the reminder of what's ahead, the voters once again spoke loudly on that subject.

"Kentucky voters ignored the persistent notion that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama will be the Democratic presidential nominee," Ryan Alessi writes in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The nominee's challenge will be to make peace with his or her foes' ardent supporters -- a feat that could be difficult for Sen. Obama, judging by the racial polarization and intensity of voters registered by exit polls," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "In Kentucky, seven in 10 whites said they voted for Sen. Clinton Tuesday, and just four in 10 said they would vote for Sen. Obama in November if he is the nominee against Sen. McCain. Seven in 10 Obama voters said they would back Sen. Clinton if she won the nomination."

You could take race out of the sample -- Kentucky and Oregon are both overwhelmingly white -- and still see the socioeconomic and cultural splits that have long defined the campaign.

"It doesn't take a political scientist to see that Oregon and Kentucky look alike in color, but not much else. Or to see that race isn't the only fault line in this Democratic presidential campaign," Jim Tankersley writes in the Chicago Tribune. "But the fact remains that demographically similar voters made very different choices in each state; a PhD in Oregon and a PhD in Kentucky didn't see this race the same."

"His 50-point loss among Kentucky whites was second only to his losing margin among whites in Arkansas," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. "Working-class (i.e. less educated) whites, consistently a better Clinton group, especially in Southern states, were far more dominant in Kentucky than in Oregon. They accounted for two-thirds of white voters in Kentucky, and backed Clinton by 4-1."

The factoid that really causes heartburn: "Reflecting their discomfort with Obama, nearly half of Kentucky Democrats said they would not support him in a November election against John McCain, again similar to the result in West Virginia," Langer writes.

Yes, these numbers are inflated by the heat of battle, but what if they prove to be even close to accurate?

"In Kentucky, where Clinton won in a rout yesterday, two in three of her voters say they would not support Obama for president if he's leading the ticket," Geoff Earle writes for the New York Post. "About 40 percent say they would defect to Republican John McCain, while a quarter said they would just stay home. In the more liberal Oregon, three in 10 said Obama wouldn't get their vote against McCain, while eight in 10 Obama backers said they would support Clinton against McCain."

It was another one of those classic demographic drubbings: "Obama allies insist these sorts of staggering numbers aren't meaningful when it comes to understanding the general election playing field," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes. "Perhaps. But Obama's struggles in winning over white working class voters in the Rust Belt has to be on the mind of party strategists who recognize the importance of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- each of which has a considerable number of these types of voters -- to their general election calculus."

And Clinton will do what she can to keep reminding Obama that nothing's over yet: "Advisers say that continuing her candidacy is partly a means to show her supporters -- especially young women -- that she is not a quitter and will not be pushed around," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

Then there's the outside-outside chance, the crazy-revelation scenario: "While Mrs. Clinton believes that winning the nomination is a long shot at this point, she is also staying in the race because, in her experience, electoral politics can be a chaotic and unpredictable enterprise, scandals can emerge from nowhere, and Mr. Obama's candidacy could still suffer a self-inflicted or unexpected wound. Picking up more primary votes and superdelegates could only strengthen her position if the party wants or needs to find an alternative to Mr. Obama," Healy writes.

Clinton still has a chance of winning the popular vote by a fair measure: She's down by about 400,000 votes if Michigan and Florida are excluded. And she's very likely to win the popular vote by the unfair measure her campaign likes to cite: She's up 150,000 votes if you include the two rogue states (yes, including Michigan, where Clinton didn't have the disadvantage of actually having to face Obama on the ballot).

This qualifies as a warning shot, from Camp Clinton: "If people want to see unity at the end of this road we need a full and fair counting of every vote --- and that includes the remaining primaries, along with Michigan and Florida," Mark Aronchick, a top Clinton fundraiser from Philadelphia, tells Newsday's Glenn Thrush. "Without that we are going to have a fractured party. . . . The passion for her is that deep."

Former President Bill Clinton agrees that sexism has been real in the race: "I don't think there's any question there have been moments in this campaign when the sort of gender biases and pre-suppositions have come out. But she's done well. She just keeps going on," he said Tuesday, per ABC's Kate Snow and Eloise Harper.

Whenever Clinton might hope, though, she's blinded by red ink. Obama kept up his million-dollars-a-day fundraising pace, hauling in $31.9 million in April, to Clinton's $22 million, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Camp Obama proves (again) that big money comes in small packages. It's been a pattern since last year but the numbers are still impressive: 1.475 million total donors overall making 2.93 million contributions. The average contribution is $91."

Then there's debt: the Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain estimates that she's nearly $31 million in the red. (That's a lot of pantsuits, and a lot of fundraising energy even for a money machine like Obama's.)

Obama can afford to offer praise, in heaping helpings. "As Obama complements her, he's paving the way for her exit," Slate's Christopher Beam blogs. "It's like the euphoria they say comes over you just before death."

Can TV kill the political star? "While Senator Barack Obama gingerly commended his rival's 'perseverance,' the shrinking candidacy of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton all but vanished from the television set on Tuesday, sidelined by bigger news," The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley writes.

Realistically it's just a matter of time: "In between the unprecedented and the familiar, it is plain to see, with each passing day, all the various parts of the normally far-flung party establishment pick themselves up and then realign and reform under Obama's banner," Time's Michael Duffy writes.

"Hillary Clinton does not lack for victories," Politico's Roger Simon writes. "What she lacks is a way to make her victories meaningful. What she lacks is an argument. What is the game-changing argument that will cause the superdelegates, who will decide the Democratic nomination, to vote for her?"

Forget math majors -- what about science? "The race for the Democratic nomination -- 'race' is hardly the right word, is it? -- now feels like a quantum physics problem: How long can a body exist in a state approximating motionlessness without actually stopping?" Slate's John Dickerson writes.

Prayers for Kennedy:

The political world froze Tuesday to ponder the life and legacy of one of the all-time greats -- and to send prayers to the Boston hospital room where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., considers his treatment options for a malignant brain tumor.

"The prognosis is highly variable at best, ominous at worst, and it raises the possibility that the workhorse lawmaker will be unable to complete the final 4 1/2 years of his eighth full term," Brian C. Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. "Despite the bad news, a Kennedy associate said that the senator shows no symptoms, remains upbeat, and has warned small groups of aides that he wants them back at work. One associate said Kennedy is plotting his course of treatment as if he were mapping strategy to enact a piece of legislation, peppering his doctors with questions and planning to reach out to other specialists before determining a course of action."

Mooney adds: "He has given no thought to retirement, a Kennedy confidante asserted. 'It's not even an option.' "

From an e-mail sent to family and friends by Vicki Kennedy Tuesday: "Rest assured, this is only the first inning. We're gathering experts, and getting multiple opinions and the best advice we can. Teddy is leading us all, as usual, with his calm approach to getting the best information possible. He's also making me crazy (and making me laugh) by pushing to race in the Figawi this weekend."

It's time for superlatives: "[Rep. Barney] Frank said Kennedy has been 'the most influential senator in American history,' a debatable proposition, but not a dismissible one," Robert G. Kaiser writes in The Washington Post. "His two brothers made the family's reputation, but it was Ted Kennedy, blessed with a decades-longer life, who worked with the nuts and bolts of government and politics to make things happen."

"We're With You Ted," reads the headline in the Boston Herald.

Peter Canellos, in The Boston Globe: "News about the Kennedys has so often come in shocking bursts, such as plane crashes and gunfire, that yesterday's revelation that the senior senator from Massachusetts is suffering from a deadly illness had a quiet poignancy all its own. . . . Kennedy's importance to national politics is far more than symbolic, and his illness comes at a moment when his centrality to the legislative process has never been more apparent."

"Tough days ahead," a Kennedy family friend told ABC News.

ABC's John Berman, on "GMA": "The senator let out a laugh after reading a card from Whoopi Goldberg that said, 'Get out of there now.' "

The General:

Don't let this get lost in the weeds of the numbers: Yes, Obama is a political ATM, but FEC numbers released late Tuesday show that McCain + RNC = $62 million cash on hand as of the beginning of May, while Obama + DNC = $42 million. (Any wonder that Obama wants the keys now?)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "doubled the cash stash he had at the beginning of April," David Saltonstall and Celeste Katz write in the New York Daily News. "The Arizona senator now has nearly $22 million in the bank, the federal fund-raising records reveal. That means McCain has whittled Obama's financial advantage from nearly 5 to 1 at the start of April to slightly more than 2 to 1 at the start of May."

McCain is on the attack -- with the fusillades focusing on foreign policy.

Florida was a savvy choice to launch the latest broadside, given the timing. "Foreshadowing a fierce contest for the nation's largest swing state, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama clashed Tuesday over Cuba in an ongoing foreign policy skirmish played out for Florida's potent Hispanic vote," Beth Reinhard and Casey Woods write in The Miami Herald. "McCain assailed Obama for his willingness to broach talks with the communist regime about democratic reforms, saying it would send 'the worst possible signal.' "

"The discussion of talks with the Castro regime echoed of a back and forth McCain and Obama have had for days about sitting down with foreign leaders," ABC's Bret Hovell writes. "Senator Obama wants to sit down with [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] unconditionally, face to face," McCain told reporters in Florida. "It enhances Ahmadinejad. What are they going to talk about, the destruction of Israel?"

Obama is playing this carefully -- and watch his answers evolve. "Obama has not renounced his commitment to meet directly with the leaders of rogue nations, including Iran. But in recent weeks, his top aides and advisers have sought to add caveats to his promise, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has made Obama's debate answer a central campaign issue," per ABC News. "The Obama campaign is now offering a more nuanced approach that would not necessarily include a presidential meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and that stresses diplomatic work that would take place before any such meetings take place."

Don't look for any such comments to slow this attack. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., joins the fray, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: "There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet."

I see your Joe Lieberman and raise you a Chuck Hagel: "I'm very upset with John with some of the things he's been saying. And I can't get into the psychoanalysis of it. But I believe that John is smarter than some of the things he is saying," Hagel, R-Neb., said in a speech Tuesday, per Huffington Post's Sam Stein. "I never understand how anyone in any realm of civilized discourse could sort through the big issues and challenges and threats and figure out how to deal with those without engaging in some way."

Will Camp McCain care about this? "McCain's argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that 'talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement,' " Glenn Kessler and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post.

The Baker quote: "You don't reward your enemies necessarily by talking to them if you are tough and you know what you are doing. You don't appease them. Talking to an enemy is not, in my view, appeasement."

McCain moves forward without Mark McKinnon: He makes good on his pledge not to work against Obama in the general election. "I'll be transitioning, shifting position from linebacker to head cheerleader," Chris Cillizza reports in The Washington Post.

The Sked:

The Democrats let the sun shine in -- or, at least, the Sunshine State lets the Democrats in. Obama holds a noon rally in Tampa, while Clinton holds three events, in Boca Raton, Sunrise, and Coral Gables, Fla.

McCain raises money in Irvine, Calif.

A Rezko verdict could come in as soon as Wednesday -- think any Republicans are ready to pounce on this?

Get the day's full schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

The Veepstakes

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., has re-launched a political action committee: Meet the Free and Strong America PAC. A "national GOP strategist"tells Boston Magazine: "Romney is making the assumption that [John] McCain will lose. . . . This is his platform for running in 2012 just like the Commonwealth PAC was the platform for 2008."

On the Hill:

Which way does the Republican future lie? "House Republicans met Tuesday to plot strategy for the election year and found themselves facing a dilemma that cuts to the heart of the party's future: In a year when Republicans are expected to lose a number of House seats, should lawmakers tack right to energize their conservative base, or should they strike a centrist tone in an appeal to independents?" Sarah Lueck writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Politico's Patrick O'Connor: "After a week of tension and recriminations following a special election loss in Mississippi, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole will unveil a series of changes Wednesday aimed at quelling criticism and positioning their party for November's elections."

Wednesday brings a House GOP energy-play rollout -- playing what might be the party's strongest card against the Democrats. From a House aide: "The key point is that our plan takes a comprehensive approach to addressing skyrocketing gasoline prices, whether it's increases energy exploration, promoting more nuclear energy, increased alternatives and renewables, more conservation, etc. . . . This will draw a sharp contrast to the Democrats' refusal to increase supply and increasing reliance on OPEC and foreign oil. The plan also proposes suspending the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax and establishing a corresponding freeze on all taxpayer-funded earmarks to ensure the Highway Trust Fund will not be impacted."

The Kicker:

"I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee -- whoever she may be." -- Hillary Clinton, playing the pronoun game Tuesday night in Louisville.

"I wouldn't want to be that tumor." -- Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., on "GMA" Wednesday, talking about his friend Ted Kennedy.

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