Is it still possible to be in it to win it when all is lost? Will she jump before she's pushed?
In a week to be marked with a final set of poll-watching and a possibly not-final set of death-watching, five lessons coming off of a wild weekend on the trail:
1. There is fight yet in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (and another one of those landslide/meaningless victories makes for one last case to the superdelegates -- though some signs, at least, point to the exit).
2. Clinton may wind up being the last person standing in an empty arena, unless she won't be (and she knows it doesn't necessarily take surrender for the match to be deemed over).
3. Sen. Barack Obama knows how to learn lessons (but sometimes needs extensions on his tests -- and it's easier to quit a church than to erase clips from YouTube).
4. There's a new magic number (for now) for the Democratic nomination -- 2,118 -- and a new magic number for Camp Clinton -- 17 million. (But the Clintons aren't the only Democrats who know how to count.)
5. Sen. Clinton drags more than just the baggage of trailing in the delegate count (superdelegates have long memories -- and most want long futures).
The upshot out of the weekend's wild developments: Obama, D-Ill., drew closer to clinching the nomination, while Clinton, D-N.Y., grew lonelier in her determination to fight on.
Obama will only get closer after the final voting takes place Tuesday -- and we're nearing the end, whether Clinton wants to admit it or not (and that questions has multiple -- and conflicting -- answers as of Monday morning).
"What he needs is 30 or fewer superdelegates. The only mystery at this point is, when is he going to get them?" ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Monday.
He said the lines of communication are open between the campaigns, and predicted a "very gracious" concession speech after Obama reaches 2,118 -- possibly Wednesday. "We're in the endgame right now," Stephanopoulos said.
With Obama set to declare victory this week, Clinton's campaign is set to make a final argument to the superdelegates -- yet she's hinting she may continue even if Obama appears to clinch the nomination.
Said Clinton, to the traveling press: "One thing about superdelegates is that they can change their minds." (Funny -- they have been, just not in her direction; she held a 212-138 edge on the morning of Feb. 6, and he leads 331.5-284.5 as of Monday morning, per ABC's count.)
In an interview with The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut, "Clinton stressed that she will press forward through the final contests of the primary season on Tuesday, brushed aside the idea that she was searching for an exit strategy, and said she will continue to weigh both her immediate- and longer-term options in the race."
Clinton tells The New York Times' Adam Nagourney: "In recent primary history, we have never nominated someone who has not won the popular vote." x
And this, to make things really interesting -- asked whether she would accept 2,118 as the true magic number: "That's a question we're going to be considering," Clinton told reporters Sunday.
Her direct message to superdelegates, in her victory speech in Puerto Rico: "In the final assessment, I ask you to consider these questions: Which candidate best represents the will of people who voted in this history election? Which candidate is best able to lead us to victory in November? And which candidate is best able to lead our nation as our president in the face of unprecedented challenges at home and abroad?" Clinton said, per ABC's Eloise Harper.
But the supers still aren't budging, and some of Clinton's strongest supporters see the writing that's taken months to etch itself onto the walls.
"It does appear to be pretty clear that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee," former governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, a national co-chairman of Clinton's campaign, tells the AP's Beth Fouhy. "After Tuesday's contests, she needs to acknowledge that he's going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him."
"There's nobody taking Hillary's side but Hillary people," former DNC chairman (and Clinton supporter) Don Fowler tells The New York Times. As for the prospect of keeping the delegate fight alive through the summer: "Unless something happens that I don't expect to happen in the next, say, by the end of June, my answer to that is not only no but, hell no."
Added Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., another strong Clinton ally: "We are willing to go on, and we understand the inevitability of this, but we are filled with disappointment and amazement: Why haven't these results caused the superdelegates to come around?"
Interpret as you will: "Members of Hillary Clinton's advance staff received calls and emails this evening from headquarters summoning them to New York City Tuesday night, and telling them their roles on the campaign are ending," Politico's Amie Parnes reports. "The advance staffers -- most of them now in Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Montana -- are being given the options of going to New York for a final day Tuesday, or going home, the aides said. The move is a sign that the campaign is beginning to shed -- at least -- some of its staff."
A chance to reflect: "Hillary Rodham Clinton is headed to Chappaqua late tonight for a somber and potentially momentous homecoming," Newsday's Glenn Thrush reports."Clinton will huddle with advisers and husband Bill Clinton at her mansion tomorrow, according to people familiar with her plans. She will monitor results from the final 2008 primaries in South Dakota and Montana and decide whether, how and when she will end her campaign as Barack Obama nears the nomination threshold."
If the party (including many Clinton supporters) accepts 2,118 as the new number, how will Clinton be able to go on? The voices from inside her own camp are "pointing the way to a peaceful end for the tumultuous presidential primary campaign," per Peter Wallstein of the Los Angeles Times. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.: "It would be most beneficial if we resolved this nomination sooner rather than later."
Donna Brazile, on ABC's "This Week," gave the whole exercise regarding uncommitted superdelegates about 72 hours to resolve itself: "The battle's over," she said. "We know the victor."
(And this doesn't even include House Majority Whip James Clyburn -- set to endorse you-know-who on Tuesday -- or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. How much patience do they have left?)
Do we know that the Clintons are watching the same race? "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her supporters are talking as if the Democratic nomination is within reach, claiming a popular vote victory with the last metric that possibly favors her," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times.
Saturday's DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee compromise could speak to more than its members realized: Democratic Party insiders resolved a stand-off to detriment of (and over the loud objections of) the one-time powerbrokers. (It may not be the last time they'll be called into such services.)
The revolution, it turned out, was televised -- on C-SPAN. Obama controls the levers of power in the party now, not the Clintons -- and that's the sentiment that at this moment remains exceedingly likely to seal the nomination for him, not her.
Yet this all makes for a messing closing sequence for a party that needs unity. "Clinton supporters were heartbroken, enraged, dispirited -- and angry," ABC's Jake Tapper writes from inside the DNC meeting. And Harold Ickes delivered the words that will haunt the party for at least a few days, if not a few months: "Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her right to take this to the Credentials Committee."
"The chaos and vitriol seemed to confirm Democrats' fears that they might blow an election that should otherwise be an easy victory for them," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post, under the headline, "Democrats Come Together to Tear Their Party in Half."
"The noise they made was the sound of the Democratic Party fracturing," Jay Newton-Small writes for Time.
Ickes said it took "chutzpah" for the committee to resolve Michigan the way it did -- but does he know the right Yiddish to label this?
Obama adviser Anita Dunn, on whether Obama needs a concession before he declares victory: "He's not going to wait by the phone like a high-school girl waiting for a date," Dunn tells ABC's Teddy Davis.
Said Obama Sunday in South Dakota, by way of congratulations to the candidate who just blew him out (again): "She is going to be a great asset going into November to make sure we defeat the Republicans."
Two new superdelegates for Obama Monday leaves him 46.5 delegates away from clinching the nomination, with Clinton 207.5 delegates from the finish line, per ABC's delegate scorecard. Obama needs 19.5 percent of the remaining delegates -- pledged and super -- in order to win. Clinton needs 84 percent of them.
"If not Tuesday, I think it will be fairly soon," said Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, on ABC's "This Week."
But this is not a gang that sounds ready to lay down its arms. "I have never seen a party take away votes from someone who earned them," Terry McAuliffe told George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," referring to the decision on Michigan. "It is not grounded in principle, and this is not the Democratic Party that I know. If you earned the votes, you should get them."
Clinton's resilience/defiance/stubbornness drips through her words:Clinton told The New York Times' Mark Leibovich that "finishing the job" was "fundamental to who I am and how I was raised," and added what Leibovich labels "her customary note of defiance": "I'm very happy that I did [stay in through the end] despite rather difficult challenges by many who wanted this to end prematurely."
She did earn extra votes in Puerto Rico on Sunday -- 141,662 more than Obama, for a 36-point victory -- fueling her final argument on the popular vote. Clinton's "lopsided victory" boosted "both her spirits and her popular vote count, but offer[ed] little hope that she can catch rival Senator Barack Obama by the end of the Democratic presidential primary season tomorrow," per Susan Milligan of The Boston Globe.
That's the focus of her closing ad, running in Montana: "Some say there isn't a single reason for Hillary to be the Democratic nominee," says the narrator. "They're right. There are over 17 million of them."
As for those numbers -- it may be a bit of a stretch. "In four ways we've figured it, Clinton leads in just one – awarding her all her votes in Michigan and giving zero there to Barack Obama, who stayed off the Michigan ballot to respect a DNC dispute with the state party," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes.
Realistically? "Hillary Clinton enjoyed a late moment in the sun Sunday with a 2-to-1 victory in Puerto Rico's primary, but Barack Obama could turn her lights out before this week is over," writes David Saltonstall of the New York Daily News.
But it's not just the math, of course, that's uncertain: "Barack Obama is poised to claim the Democratic presidential nomination this week, but Hillary Clinton shows no signs of conceding,"Jackie Calmes and June Kronholz write in The Wall Street Journal. "How their endgame plays out -- in continued rivalry, as running mates or something in between -- will go a long way toward determining Democrats' fortunes this fall."
They add: "At bottom, some advisers say, Sen. Clinton may be hoping for another controversy to arise for Sen. Obama, one so damaging that party leaders would give her their convention votes to salvage Democratic hopes in November's general election."
"The big drama now facing the Democratic Party in the presidential contest is how, when and even whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will depart the race," Adam Nagourney, Carl Hulse, and Jeff Zeleny reported in the Sunday New York Times. "Despite the fireworks, Mrs. Clinton's associates said she seemed to have come to terms over the last week with the near certainty that she would not win the nomination."
Yes, she's likely to defer to the math, "But that is not a certainty; Mr. Obama's announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race," per the Times trio.
(This fun tidbit could be a hint about the endgame: "Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who endorsed Mr. Obama nearly two months ago, recently called Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, who has yet to endorse a candidate. 'Hey, Ritter!' Mr. Richardson said. 'After June 3, it means nothing. Those who take a little bit of a risk, he'll remember you.' ")
And where's the good will that might have bought Camp Clinton a little more time? At least some has dissipated along with the diminishing of Bill Clinton's reputation.
Todd Purdum takes on the former president in the new Vanity Fair, up to and including whispers of extracurricular activities. "None of these wisps of smoke have produced a public fire," Purdum writes. "But four former Clinton aides told me that, about 18 months ago, one of the president's former assistants, who still advises him on political matters, had heard so many complaints about such reports from Clinton supporters around the country that he felt compelled to try to conduct what one of these aides called an 'intervention,' because, the aide believed, 'Clinton was apparently seeing a lot of women on the road.' The would-be intercessor was rebuffed by people around Clinton before ever getting an audience with the former president."
The response from Clinton spokesman Jay Carson, in Purdum's piece, practically tells the story by itself: "The ills of the Democratic Party can be seen perfectly in the willingness of fellow Democrats to say bad things about President Clinton."
Purdum concludes: "In the end, this is Clinton's most grievous sin, his steady refusal to take grown-up responsibility for the consequences of his own actions. . . . It is Clinton's invariable insistence that his problems are someone else's fault, and that questions or criticisms of him, his methods, motives, or means are invariably unfair, that is his unforgivable flaw."
As for exit strategies, The London Telegraph offers a (lightly sourced) hint: "Senior figures in the Obama camp have told Democrat colleagues that the offer to Mrs Clinton of a cabinet post as health secretary or to steer new legislation through the Senate will be a central element of their peace overtures to the New York senator."
Yet no perfect options exist for her -- recall that she's only a second-term senator, and that the majority leader's post is currently extremely occupied.
"A more likely path for Clinton is a higher-profile role in the Senate, political analysts and fellow senators say. In that way, the role model may be [Sen. Ted] Kennedy, who became a legislative heavyweight in the decades after his failed 1980 bid to challenge President Jimmy Carter,"Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen writes. "If that's what she decides, she'll have a long way to go to achieve anywhere near Kennedy's clout."
Those questions can wait -- at least as long as it takes Obama to cap his campaign with a speech in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday night -- mustering every bit of symbolism he can to deliver a statement on where he (if not the party, and the nation) sees the race at this moment.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is set to undergo surgery on his brain tumor Monday morning at Duke University Medical Center, to be followed by radiation treatments at chemotherapy at Mass. General. "After completing treatment, I look forward to returning to the United States Senate and to doing everything I can to help elect Barack Obama as our next president," Kennedy said in a statement released by his Senate office.
Obama now moves on as a man without a church -- though that won't stop the fiery clips from being used, or even from new ones emerging.
"Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign," per ABC's Jake Tapper, George Stephanopoulos, and Sunlen Miller. "It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church."
Per the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick and Manya A. Brachear, "Severing more than two decades of ties to his spiritual home on the city's South Side, Obama said he made the decision for his own political needs and in an effort to allow the church a return to some normalcy. . . . The Illinois Democrat had not attended the church since it first entered the national spotlight in mid-March, following the appearance of Internet videos featuring Obama's longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr."
An Obama adviser tells Beliefnet's Dan Gilgoff: "I would not say it's a rebuke. It's an acknowledgement of the tremendous scrutiny on the church."
There's some politics, too, and a fair bit of defense -- for good reason, it would turn out. More from Father Michael Pfleger, per ABC's Jake Tapper: "Racism is still America's greatest addiction," Pfleger said in a newly posted clip from his most famous sermon. "I also believe that America is the greatest sin against God."
Even more from Pfleger, on the pulpit at his own church: "Hillary and McCain would wish they had a preacher with the integrity of Jeremiah Wright. . . . They got some old weak preacher . . . some old Joel Osteen cotton candy preacher."
Over? Not quite. "The damage done by Sen. Barack Obama's slow three-month break with Trinity United Church of Christ persists even after he has severed all ties with the Chicago congregation," per The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick.
Think this is the last we'll hear of Trinity? "Those who spoke [to reporters] said they were angry, mostly at the news media -- for failing, they said, to take the time to fully study the words of Mr. Wright and the works of Trinity; for trying to tear down Mr. Obama, a beloved member of the church for almost two decades; and, most of all, for turning their private worship into a public spectacle," per The New York Times' Monica Davey. "They said that they remained supportive of Mr. Obama and that they were saddened, but not angered, by his choice to leave the church under the relentless pressure."
Said Rev. Otis Moss III, from the pulpit Sunday: "Every Christian is part of our family. Whether they're physically with us or not -- they're part of our family."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., steps up his attack on Obama Monday morning with a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "It's worth recalling that America's progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed," he plans to say, per excerpts released by his campaign. "It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq."
More from the speech: "Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on."
On labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization: "Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama."
McCain talks foreign policy with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, and hits Obama for shifting his rhetoric on meeting with leaders of rogue nations: "The next time he sees where he's wrong, maybe he'll shift again. The point is is that he doesn't understand. Look, in the primary, he was unequivocal in his statements. And now he realizes that it's not a smart thing to say. I didn't say he wasn't a smart politician."
Obama is getting more aggressive toward McCain: "Sen. Barack Obama called Sen. John McCain's refusal to admit he misspoke about troop levels in Iraq 'disturbing' and cast his actions as the sequel to the Bush administration's refusal to admit their own mistakes," ABC's Sunlen Miller reports.
"We've seen this movie before," Obama said at a town hall in Rapid City, S.D. "A leader who pursues the wrong course, who is unwilling to change course, who ignores the evidence. Now, just like George Bush, John McCain is refusing to admit that he's made a mistake."
The Clinton family descends on South Dakota -- capping the evening with a rare event featuring all three of them at 9 pm ET in Sioux Falls.
Michelle Obama campaigns in Montana, while Sen. Obama makes his big event early Monday afternoon in Troy, Mich.
McCain delivers his AIPAC speech at 9:45 am ET, then campaigns in Tennessee.
Only two states left: "Montana election officials are expecting almost half of all registered Montana voters to show up at the polls tomorrow, a blow-out voter participation rate for a primary election, which are usually widely ignored," Jennifer McKee writes in the Billings Gazette.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., gets a boost from a New York Times piece: "Religion and fiscal stringency have a friendly home at the state Capitol here, with a conservative, Bobby Jindal, in the governor's office, a host of straight-arrow novice legislators eager to please him and an honored spot for the Louisiana Family Forum in the old marble halls," per the Times' Adam Nossiter. "Politicians here say they are certain that Mr. Jindal would balance a McCain ticket, and not just because he is an Indian-American. The Christian right has a new champion in Mr. Jindal, a serious Catholic who has said that "in my faith, you give 100 percent of yourself to God."
Add former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., to the I-haven't-even-though-about-it caucus: "The former Massachusetts governor said he hasn't discussed the job with McCain despite meeting with him at McCain's Sedona home earlier this month," per the Boston Herald.
Odds & Ends:
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten is ready to fall on his sword over Scott McClellan's book -- with a twist of his knife: the book was his fault, in a sense, since he's the one who pushed him out the door. "It may be that I'm ultimately responsible for the bitterness and disgruntlement, and ultimately for the book," Bolten said at a forum at his alma mater on Friday, per The Daily Princetonian's Angela Cai. "But you've got to do what you've got to do."
Mark Penn (almost) gets introspective in an interview with The Guardian. On the question of whether he should have left lobbying during the campaign, Penn said: "I think that we -- you know, with the benefit of hindsight, we might have done things somewhat differently. I'll spend some time analysing that. . . . In these races, if you win you all win, and if you lose you all lose. You have to take your share of the responsibility. There is always, in everything, something that could have been done differently."
More McCain lobbying problems, this time involving former senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas. "UBS has recently written off huge losses in subprime-mortgage-based securities, and last week liberal bloggers noted that Gramm was a registered UBS lobbyist on mortgage-securities issues until at least December 2007," Newsweek's Mark Hosenball writes. "NEWSWEEK has learned that UBS is also currently the focus of congressional and Justice Department investigations into schemes that allegedly enabled wealthy Americans to evade income taxes by stashing their money in overseas havens."
"As John McCain and Barack Obama duke it out over who is tougher on lobbyists, the Arizona Republican has come away with the bloodier face," Mary Jacoby writes in The Wall Street Journal. "But in many ways, the McCain policy against lobbyists on his campaign goes beyond what his Democratic rival has outlined."
The Paulites have been blitzing GOP conventions -- but McCain has been more than holding his own -- good sign for the fall. "Anyone who tells you that McCain doesn't have grassroots and is not present on the ground has to wrestle with these kinds of facts," Soren Dayton writes at RedState.org. "The McCain campaign is actively developing a grassroots and deploying them successfully in conventions."
Can gay marriage work again as a GOP issue? Bloomberg's Al Hunt thinks not: "That dog, as they say in the American South, won't hunt this time. The gay-marriage issue, seized on by President George W. Bush's former political guru, Karl Rove, may have been moderately helpful to Republicans in 2004; it won't distract voters from other concerns -- like the economy, health care and the war in Iraq -- in 2008."
Former governor Jim Gilmore, R-Va., is the probable sacrificial lamb for the GOP in Virginia's Senate race, securing the nomination to take on another former governor, Mark Warner, D-Va.
"I think my obituary is yet to be written." -- Hillary Clinton, to reporters on her campaign trail, many of whom are finalizing campaign obits.
"Watch out for the vultures. God bless them and move on." -- Man ushering congregants past reporters at Trinity United Church of Christ on Sunday.
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