Five questions that could determine everything or nothing:
1. If a Bushie falls in this forest, who cares to hear him?
2. Do Democrats want to see Obama's stretched map, or listen to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (stretched) arguments on electability? (And does Clinton need to run the table in the last three contests to keep her in the game?)
3. Can the general election just start, or does white smoke have to emanate from a Washington, D.C., hotel room this weekend?
4. If Sen. Barack Obama seeks to morph Sen. John McCain into President Bush's mini-me, how long before history crashes in? (And does it matter that Obama flubbed some history of his own?)
5. Why on earth would the Clinton campaign be running a new slogan contest NOW? (Thank you for the e-mail, Chelsea, and here's a write-in suggestion: "My mom ran for president, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.")
This is how it looks this Wednesday: Obama has basically stopped running against Clinton, and has starting running against McCain (via President Bush.)
McCain, to varying degrees, is running against both Obama and the president -- but shares just enough with both of them to make things interesting.
Clinton has (mostly) stopped running against Obama -- and now she's running against The Establishment (its media, its math, and its method of viewing the political world).
But the point is: She's still running. It comes to this for the once-inevitable, always-inimitable candidate: Three final rounds primaries and one final meeting in a Washington hotel room should be all that stand between her and the end.
Yet while everyone looks for her to grope her way to the exit, she's finding reasons to stick around. James Carville, on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday, said the end of voting June 3 could bring a "split decision," with Obama up in the delegate count and Clinton having received more votes.
"I think a lot of superdelegates are going to say, wait a minute, you got more votes than he did? . . . And look at those polls," Carville said.
And he blasted the Obama campaign for trying to score political points out of Clinton's comments Friday regarding the RFK assassination. "The way that they handled this South Dakota thing was not helpful at all. . . . This was not a good thing," Carville said. "Obama tried to pull a clever political trick, and it backfired on him."
Clinton herself got maybe a little carried away here, speaking in Billings, Mon., Tuesday night: "Based on every analysis of every bit of research, and every poll that's been taken and every state that a Democrat has to win -- I am the stronger candidate against John McCain in the fall," she said, ABC's Eloise Harper reports.
Still, the road to 2008 has already split -- and Clinton's not following the route she planned out. "The differing paths the two Democratic candidates took Tuesday signaled the looming end of their contest, with Obama campaigning as though he already is his party's standard-bearer and Clinton still contesting the nomination," Scott Martelle writes in The Los Angeles Times.
In that general election that's starting without Clinton, Obama wants McCain and Bush to be running together. Obama is "trying to make Bush McCain's running mate," ABC's Jake Tapper reported Wednesday on "GMA." "Hillary? Hillary who?"
McCain's fund-raiser with President Bush Tuesday defines the terms of their new relationship -- and lets Obama hone his argument on that very subject.
"No cameras. No reporters," Obama said at a campaign event in Las Vegas, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn't want to be seen, hat in hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years." McCain knows his politics -- and a photo-op was about all he wanted with his rival/friend/rival.
"On Tuesday, Mr. Bush's role [in McCain's campaign] became much clearer when he held his first event for Mr. McCain. He will show up to raise money (thank you very much), and he will say and do as little as possible, at least in public view," Steven Lee Myers writes in The New York Times. "The politicking seemed far removed from the sunny day at the White House in March when Mr. McCain, still flush from his triumph over a crowded primary field, and Mr. Bush appeared like two old friends."
It'll be hard to find Bush on Wednesday, too, when he headlines a McCain fundraiser alongside former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. "The fleeting public appearances of an unpopular president on behalf of the potential heir to the leadership of the Republican Party underscore the delicate balance for McCain, who is trying to appeal to a restless GOP base that continues to embrace the president while reaching out to moderates and independents who want to move beyond the Bush administration," per The Washington Post.
MoveOn.org is back with another McCain/Bush spot. (Detect a pattern in Democratic messaging yet?)
And a new memoir plops itself into the race, perhaps sealing the relationship off at arm's length. This time it's Scott McClellan -- a card-carrying Bushie, and the first of the true inner circle to fully defect -- who drops terms like "propaganda," "permanent campaign," "strategic blunder," "grave mistake," and "terribly off course" on the Bush White House (and puts the best quotes on the dust jacket).
"The eagerly awaited book, while recounting many fond memories of Bush and describing him as 'authentic' and 'sincere,' is harsher than reporters and White House officials had expected," per Politico's Mike Allen. "McClellan's tone is often harsh. He writes, for example, that after Hurricane Katrina, the White House 'spent most of the first week in a state of denial,' and he blames [Karl] Rove for suggesting the photo of the president comfortably observing the disaster during an Air Force One flyover."
"The book, coming from a man who was a tight-lipped defender of administration aides and policy, is certain to give fuel to critics of the administration, and McClellan has harsh words for many of his past colleagues," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "He accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney 'the magic man' who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints."
Imagine if this had come from the briefing-room podium: "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary," McClellan writes. (And yes, he says that reporters should have been more aggressive in the run-up to the war. He actually writes this.)
Rove, earning that Fox contract on "Hannity & Colmes" Tuesday night, plays enforcer. On a supposed meeting with Scooter Libby at the height of the Valerie Plame affair, Rove said, "It goes to show how much out of the loop [McClellan] was that he didn't think we spent much time together."
And the corker -- setting the tone for the remaining loyalists: "This doesn't sound like Scott, it really doesn't not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time . . . it sounds like a left wing blogger. . . . If he had these moral qualms, he should have spokem up about them. I don't remember him speaking up about these things. I don't remember a single word."
"This is not the Scott I know," press secretary Dan Perino tells ABC's Martha Raddatz. Raddatz reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday: "Clearly the White House is stunned by the harshness of this book."
For Clinton, we're witness to what looks like the long, sad end: "Clinton looks like to me that she is tired, slightly desperate and going through the stages of grief from a lost dream," Matthew Dowd writes in his ABC blog. "She has been in denial, moving through anger and sadness, but seems stuck in bargaining, while still needing to get to acceptance."
She's maybe just short of firing up the party in a grand national cause. Among Clinton's central messages Tuesday on the trail: to "reaffirm her support for tribal sovereignty and her respect for the government to government relationship between the tribes of Montana and the federal government," per ABC's Eloise Harper.
(Cue the big applause line: "We must create a position at a high level in the government for the administrator of the Indian Health Services at the assistant secretary of state level, so that person has the clout and visibility in Washington to work with me as president to make the changes that are necessary," Clinton said, per The Missoulian's Betsy Cohen.)
How she goes matters -- and she just might be teeing up a told-you-so argument for 2012, Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes. "The window appears to be closed on Clinton in the race for the 2008 nomination. But that doesn't mean that the final weeks of her bid are without purpose as it relates to her future political plans."
This is not the sound of someone going quietly: "With just three Democratic primaries left and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chances at her party's nomination increasingly a longshot, determined and deep-pocketed supporters based in San Francisco have launched an effort to keep the New York senator's campaign alive -- making a case for counting primary votes in Michigan and Florida," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime friend of Clinton's and - along with her husband, Mark Buell -- one of the country's most generous Democratic donors, is one of the forces behind the WomenCount political action committee," Marinucci continues. "Since its formation earlier this month, the group has spent at least $140,000 to publish full-page ads in newspapers around the country in support of Clinton, according to the organization's papers on file with the Federal Elections Commission."
The next big fight comes Saturday, when the Rules & Bylaws Committee meets (and allows smart Republicans to contend that the Democratic National Convention is already being brokered).
"The stage is set for a titanic showdown that could reshape the Democratic nomination process," The Hill's Sam Youngman writes. "Clinton's hopes for the nomination, which are growing narrower by the day, hinge on a reprieve at Saturday's meetings as she is desperately looking to cut into Obama's margins by adding her popular vote and delegate totals from the two states."
Five-hundred tickets to the meeting were snatched up in three minutes, per ABC's Teddy Davis. (If only Howard Dean could make this a fund-raiser . . . )
"Now it's the referees who are getting ready to rumble," Ken Bazinet and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News. "This weekend, a pack of just 30 party officials will decide how to count a couple million more votes that could keep Clinton's campaign alive. Even stranger, most of the referees also play for the warring teams."
Get your hopes up if you must, but these are Democrats we're talking about.
"Those people who believe all problems have solutions may be unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Democratic Party," Politico's Roger Simon writes. "The 30 members of the committee, who come from all over the nation, have been warned to keep their hotel rooms Saturday night, because the meeting may go into Sunday. The huge problem is what happens if one side or another does not like the rules committee's compromise. In that case, the controversy would go to the 186-member Credentials Committee, which will convene in July or August."
Mark Halperin of Time and ABC News charts 10 potential signals that the Democratic race won't end with end of voting, including this intriguing possibility for post-June 3: She could "give a big speech, with Perot-style charts and graphs, arguing that she is a far stronger candidate against McCain."
Clinton wins back -- apparently -- a super-d switcher: Kevin Rodriguez has now gone Clinton to Obama to Clinton, per the Clinton campaign, ABC's Karen Travers reports.
Obama leads off Wednesday with a new superdelegate: Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.
Assuming this is wrapped up in due course -- what does Obama get? A map he needs to see expand -- but that may not be quite as elastic as he hopes.
"A Globe analysis of six traditionally Republican states where Obama has signaled he will compete -- Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia -- suggests that his confident assertion has validity, but only to a point," Scott Helman and Alan Wirzbicki write in a deeply reported Boston Globe piece. "Colorado, given its influx of younger, more liberal voters, and Virginia, with its sizable African-American vote and political shifts, are ripe for Democratic coups this year. But any victories elsewhere in the South would require political earthquakes of a sizable magnitude, according to voting patterns, registration data, and interviews with local political analysts."
Out West -- where Obama has spent the early part of the week -- Colorado + New Mexico + Nevada = (almost) Ohio. "The sharp red and blue boundaries that have defined political America for a decade could be blurring," Susan Page writes in a USA Today analysis of the fall battlegrounds.
Obama and McCain "are a matched pair, each with vulnerabilities in their parties' bases and strength among independents and crossover voters. That makes November a battle between idiosyncratic followers dubbed Obamicans and McCainiacs as well as between traditional Republicans and Democrats," Page writes. "The new must-have state could be Colorado, a state that's voted Republican in the last three presidential elections but has been moving toward the Democrats."
Obama sees an issue with Western legs: "Sen. Obama is emphasizing his housing plans in Western swing states hit hard by the mortgage crisis. These states have mostly voted Republican in recent elections, but the Obama campaign is counting on victories there in November," per The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick.
Before he goes to battle, it's time to get the war stories straight. On Memorial Day, Obama flubbed the name of the Nazi concentration camp his great-uncle helped liberate -- it was Buchenwald, not Auschwitz. (Key for the GOP -- dare they make this part of a "pattern," or do they let this one slide?)
McCain fleshes out his foreign-policy differences with Bush: "Senator John McCain distanced himself from the Bush administration on Tuesday by vowing to work more closely with Russia on nuclear disarmament and to move toward the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times. "Mr. McCain's remarks were his most extensive as a presidential candidate on nuclear policy and were part of his effort to advance his national security credentials compared with those of Senator Barack Obama."
"Without mentioning him by name, McCain also criticized Obama, who has said he is willing to meet with the leaders of North Korea, Iran and other U.S. enemies," Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post.
But where does he stand vis a vis the president? "I think it's fair to characterize this as a significant departure from the nuclear security policies of the Bush administration," said McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann, per ABC's Teddy Davis and James Gerber.
And he can't even give a speech on nuclear non-proliferation without being interrupted? "Sen. John McCain was interrupted four times by anti-Iraq war protestors in the first ten minutes of his remarks," ABC's Bret Hovell reports. McCain's response, drawing cheers: "By the way I will never surrender in Iraq."
Think Camp McCain sees some up-side in a foreign-policy debate? "Republican Sen. John McCain will not let Sen. Barack Obama off the hook when it comes to statements his likely Democratic presidential opponent made about negotiating unconditionally with leaders of rogue nations such as Iran," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times. "McCain campaign officials say Mr. Obama's attempts to clarify his position will only weaken his case to win the White House."
Obama stays in general-election mode, in Colorado, while Sen. Clinton keeps her focus on the primary, in South Dakota. Bill Clinton wraps up his Puerto Rico swing. McCain campaigns and raises money in Nevada and Los Angeles.
President Bush delivers the Air Force Academy commencement address, and headlines McCain fundraisers Wednesday evening in Utah.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Odds & Ends:
Feel like 2004, anybody? "The Democratic Party is struggling to raise money for its convention in Denver on Aug. 25-28, with fund-raising by the host committee falling far short of the party's goals and lagging behind the Republicans' efforts for their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul," Leslie Wayne writes in The New York Times. "So far, the Denver host committee is about $15 million short of the $40.6 million it must raise by June 16. With only $25 million raised so far, the committee is scrambling to offer a new round of special deals for corporate underwriters, as well as to devise a backup plan should the fund-raising fall short and plans for the convention need to be scaled down."
How did we get to this point in the Democratic race? Remember those last three weeks of February -- when Obama netted 121 pledged delegates. "Who knows where we'd be today if Clinton had had a post-Super Tuesday strategy," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "Ready on Day 67."
Jon Ralston welcomes McCain to Nevada (and the Yucca Mountain issue) Wednesday, in his Las Vegas Sun column. "As John McCain, alighting in Reno today, tries to woo Nevada voters, he is hoping for the kind of short-term memory loss Christopher Nolan wrote about and filmed in 'Memento,' " Ralston write. "McCain is an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear power and a fervent backer of Yucca Mountain as a suitable storage site. The evidence is plentiful."
The Rezko jury is working late this week, per the Chicago Tribune.
Trail romance: Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., is dating Clinton's "body woman," Huma Abedin, "Vogue model and 'mythical figure' who hushes reporters with a glance," per Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News.
Next at the Bush ranch -- a gay wedding? "So, can we borrow it for our wedding, can we get the ranch?" Ellen DeGeneres asks Jenna (Bush) Hager in the episode of her program set to air Wednesday. "Sure," replied Hager.
Bloomberg News' Indira A.R. Lakshmanan profiles Carly Fiorina, a McCain loyalist who's playing an inside-an-outside role for McCain. "By John McCain's own admission, the economy isn't his strong suit," Lakshmanan writes. "The ace up his sleeve may be a polished corporate executive ranked six times as the U.S.'s most powerful businesswoman, who's also among the most controversial."
The Boston Herald's Howie Carr remembers that McCain and Romney sort of don't like each other -- not that Romney minds seeing his name in the mix: "He doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink, he doesn't gamble, he doesn't run around, but he's got one addiction," Carr writes. "He's addicted to running for president."
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., talks veepstakes with Deborah Solomon in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine. He says he hasn't talked "about any of this" with Obama, and had this to say about the possibility of putting Wesley Clark on a ticket: "This isn't personally anything negative, but again it's a real risk to bring somebody in who hasn't held office. Other than Eisenhower, the great military leader in that incredible World War II experience, you're going to want someone on your ticket who's demonstrated he can get votes."
The Hill's J. Taylor Rushing does some Webb handicapping: "Whether he wants to talk about it or not, Webb continues to be discussed as a running mate, specifically for Obama. He offers plenty to balance the Illinois Democrat's weaknesses -- Webb is a decorated Vietnam veteran, a pro-gun former Republican who worked in the Reagan White House and who could help deliver Virginia into the Democratic column."
"I remember thinking to myself, 'How can that be?' " -- Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, disbelieving President Bush's claim that he "honestly" couldn't remember whether he'd ever used cocaine.
"What better illustrates John McCain's record of bipartisanship than his reaching out to an apparent supporter of one of his political opponents." --McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, to the New York Post, referring to a campaign ad that shows McCain shaking hands with a woman wearing what appears to be an Obama for President button.
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1