The Note: The End

The Clinton era in Democratic politics comes to an end on Tuesday -- and the only question left is how Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton chooses to acknowledge it.

Five months to the day after the voting started back in the snow of Iowa, a late spring day in the unlikely venues of Montana and South Dakota close it out -- with a little help from a final burst of superdelegates.

Sen. Barack Obama -- minus one church, plus one flag pin, and on the cusp of history -- stands as of Tuesday morning just 36 delegates away from capturing the nomination, per ABC's count. With the last two contests (the 55th and 56th states or territories to vote, if you're counting) likely to provide roughly half that total, we're counting down for a final two dozen to drop.

"It is going to happen," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "He will declare victory tonight. It will be a moment of history. . . . The real debate [for Clinton] is going to come down to, do you suspend, or do you get out? They might try to have it both ways."

Clinton won't step aside until Wednesday at the earliest (though her voice gave out before she did Monday, at her last event in a primary state).

If all goes as Obama plans, he'll have what he needs by the time polls close at 10 pm ET in Montana -- allowing voters to put him over 2,118, while he speaks from St. Paul, Minn., the soon-to-be site of the Republican National Convention.

"Sensing an opportunity to shut down the nominating contest, Obama campaign advisers said that they were orchestrating an endorsement of Mr. Obama by at least eight Senate and House members who had pledged to remain uncommitted until the primaries ended, and that the endorsements would come the moment the South Dakota polls closed on Tuesday night," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"The group will be led by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who on Monday met with three other uncommitted Democratic senators -- Ken Salazar of Colorado, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland -- at the offices of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in what Mr. Salazar called a unity session," Nagourney writes. "The most likely situation, some of Mrs. Clinton's aides said, was that she would suspend her campaign later in the week and would probably -- though not definitely -- endorse Mr. Obama."

Then, it's all over but the pouting -- and don't expect much of that, not from a campaign that's starting to slow down, or from a candidate whose political interest now lies with a clean end followed by full-throated support.

They can call it a celebration in New York City Tuesday night, but it's looking more like a commemoration -- of a historic campaign, of a remarkable candidate, and of one of the more endurable legacies in the Democratic Party's history.

Advance staffers are being summoned to New York -- or allowed to go home. The Hillraisers have been invited as well -- a last round of hugs and thank-yous. A Wednesday AIPAC speech in Washington is the only major event still on Clinton's schedule; one Clinton fundraiser said a move out of the race could happen any time after that, in part because she doesn't want to appear before a forum of strong supporters as a former candidate.

"For those reading the tea leaves, there are strong signs the Clinton campaign may be preparing for the end," ABC's Kate Snow and Sarah Amos report.

Per Snow, "On a conference call late this afternoon with about 30 top donors, senior advisor Harold Ickes conceded that the likelihood of Clinton securing the nomination was growing more remote. But he emphatically argued to donors that the end was not here yet and that they should continue to support the Senator until she says to do otherwise."

What we know for sure: The voting ends Tuesday. Fifteen delegates are at stake in South Dakota, where polls open at 8 am ET and close at 9 pm ET. Sixteen delegates will be awarded in Montana, where polls open at 9 am ET and close at 10 pm ET.

Obama would love to make it clean and wrap it up by the time the voters do: "He apparently is telling people that he has the numbers, and that's what's going to happen, at which point it would become moot what the rest of us do," Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., tells the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn.

"The plan would be for superdelegates to formally endorse Obama while the polls are still open, and then later Tuesday, Obama would gather enough delegates to reach the magic number," per The Hill's Jordan Fabian and Bob Cusack. "That strategy would ensure that voters and pledged delegates -- and not an individual superdelegate -- would put Obama over the top, helping to avoid the perception that party insiders ultimately decided the nominee."

The flood may be led Tuesday by a freshly endorsing House Minority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., per ABC's Jake Tapper."Clyburn is calling other superdelegates Monday to get them on board before the last Democratic primary contests," Tapper reports.

"Obama's supporters are putting the lean on some uncommitteds who have been privately backing Obama through this process," per The Note's "Sneak Peek." "The message: If you support him, make it count and come out tomorrow to put him over the threshold."

"A Democratic source said that at least five to 10 House members would endorse Obama on Tuesday morning, at least 10 senators would endorse him by the end of the day and an additional 10 superdelegates also would endorse him during the day,"John McCormick and Mike Dorning report in the Chicago Tribune. "That would almost certainly assure enough delegates by the end of the day to reach the 2,118 needed to clinch the nomination."

(What does Rahm do?)

"I've spoken to 10 uncommitteds, and they've said yes, they'll be committing [to Obama], and they'll be committing sometime tomorrow," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., tells Politico's Amie Parnes and Charles Mahtesian.

If Obama is not over the top by Tuesday night, expect a joint statement Wednesday morning from Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Governors Association Chairman Joe Manchin asking all undeclared superdelegates to announce their preference by Friday, ABC's David Chalian reports.

Yet there remains the wisp of doubt about Clinton's intentions.

"Clinton sent mixed signals about her plans," Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut report in The Washington Post. "As her campaign recalled field staffers to New York, one adviser indicated that she would suspend, but not end, her campaign within days. But the candidate herself said she will continue to argue to the group of party insiders who will hold sway over the final outcome that her strong showing in recent contests demonstrates that she would be the more electable candidate in November."

Wouldn't this be fun? "Another, according to senior Clinton advisers, is what they dubbed the 'middle option,' for Clinton to suspend her campaign, acknowledging that Obama has crossed the delegate threshold but keeping her options open until the convention in late August," they write.

"A campaign source said Clinton is planning one final gut check before throwing in the towel on her White House dream -- even as other party sources say some of her own superdelegates are talking of bolting if she doesn't quit," per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul, Ken Bazinet, and Michael McAuliff. "The Clintons 'are considering more seriously than you'd imagine' taking the fight to the party's credentials committee, the source said." x

Any chance that this slows the flood? The group Women Count, a PAC of female Clinton supporters, has a new ad running Tuesday in The Hill and Roll Call -- on the desks of just about every member of Congress: "You're still not listening. Our votes are our voices." says the top headline, per ABC's Kate Snow. At the bottom of the page: "Superdelegates, look at the facts.  The voters have spoken.  And remember this is not about you.  It's about us."

Clinton's choice of venue for Tuesday evening -- not to mention the company she'll keep -- may say as much about her intentions as anything else.

"Clinton aides considered and rejected a plan to have her campaign later this week in states that will be important in the general election," Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times. "She isn't withdrawing, a Clinton aide said, 'but we're slowing down this process.' "

"I think if Senator Obama gets the number she will congratulate him and call him the nominee," campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said on NBC's "Today" on Tuesday. "I don't think she's going to go to the credentials committee."

Leave it to Bill Clinton, as always, to wear his emotions -- if not quite his wife's intentions -- on his sleeve.

"This may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," the former president said, ABC's Sarah Amos reports. "I thought I was out of politics, 'til Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president."

(Does anyone believe this is really his last campaign?)

And give him one final eruption -- just for old time's sake. This time it was Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum on the firing line, labeled "sleazy," "dishonest," "slimy" and a "scumbag" by the former president of the United States. l

"It's just the most biased press coverage in history. . . . It's part of the national media's attempt to nail Hillary for Obama," Clinton told Huffington Post's Mayhill Fowleralong the rope line in South Dakota. "[Purdum] still hasn't apologized to me for Whitewater."

Writes The New York Times' Michael Luo:"It was the kind of episode that has gotten Mr. Clinton into trouble throughout the campaign season, and it again overshadowed his tireless stumping on behalf of Mrs. Clinton."

"The former president had given hundreds of speeches across the country, spreading a defiant message that, whatever the delegate count, his wife was still on her way to winning the nomination," The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes(and count the "Milbanks" in this piece, datelined Milbank, S.D.). "But something changed on the road to Milbank on Monday, and when he arrived here, Clinton could not deceive the Milbankers."

And yet -- may Sen. Clinton not go quickly and quietly? "I think its pretty clear that she is staying in this race," Clinton spokesperson Mo Elleithee told reporters aboard the campaign plane, per ABC's Kate Snow and Eloise Harper. "She is going, in the coming days, to be aggressively courting uncommitted superdelegates, aggressively courting unpledged delegates, making the case to them that she is a candidate best ready to take on John McCain."

Some are still talking convention: Politico's Ben Smithsees a draft making the rounds in Clinton finance circles. "The automatic delegates can change their mind up until their vote at the convention, and that is why this nominating process must be resolved in August, and no earlier," the memo reads.

"Nobody can tell her it's over. She'll figure it out," one "top staffer" tells The Wall Street Journal's Matt Phillips and Amy Chozick.

"We have been having a hard time getting her to stop campaigning long enough to talk about how she actually ends this thing," another Clinton person tells Politico's Roger Simon.

ABC's Cynthia McFaddenlooked back at Clinton's time on the trail on "Nightline" Monday.

As crowning events go -- this is all less than ideal for Obama, and for the Democratic Party.

"Even as Hillary Clinton sends mixed signals about her willingness to leave the race, Obama, unlike his counterparts in recent presidential cycles, is not exactly sprinting across the finish line,"Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "Over the last three months, the Illinois senator has won just six of 14 contests, one less than the seven Clinton has won. . . . A loss to Clinton in either primary today would underscore Obama's relatively weak finish and make his already narrow victory over the New York senator even slimmer."

He is a changed (and changing) man: "As Mr. Obama stands poised to claim the crown of presumptive Democratic nominee, he is, gingerly, fitting himself with the cloth of a partisan Democrat despite having long proclaimed himself above such politics," Michael Powell writes in The New York Times."That his shift in tone was inevitable and necessary, particularly as Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, slashes at Mr. Obama as weak on Iran and terrorism, does not entirely diminish the cognitive dissonance."

Yet things are slowing down, and Obama can afford to be conciliatory. He told reporters that he wants to meet with Clinton "once the dust settled," "at a time and place of her choosing, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. (They'll both be in New York later this week.)

Writes USA Today's Kathy Kiely, "For the second day in a row, Obama tossed verbal bouquets at Clinton before a crowd of his supporters. He assured them that the Democratic rift will be repaired."

"Once the last votes are cast, then it's in everybody's interest to resolve this quickly so we can pivot," Obama tells the AP's Tom Raum.

And after Obama's phone call to Clinton Sunday evening, the lines of communication are open.

Monica Langley of The Wall Street Journal: "Among the moves so far: Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a senior adviser to Sen. Obama, has talked to Clinton supporter Leon Panetta, the former congressman and President Clinton's chief of staff, about endorsing Sen. Obama once the final primary contests conclude. Obama chief strategist David Axelrod recently chatted with ex-Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, whom the Obama camp will want to bring in for help with women and Hispanics."

"A top money man for Sen. Obama, hedge-fund manager Orin Kramer, is keeping a dialogue open with two of Sen. Clinton's finance chairs, Hassan Nemazee and Maureen White, one of Sen. Clinton's top fund-raisers, in hopes of moving their fund-raising prowess to his candidate soon," Langley continues. "In anticipation of Sen. Clinton's withdrawal from the Democratic race, the Obama campaign plans to draw up a list of dozens of names for Sen. Obama to call personally, three Democratic insiders say. The Clinton supporters on his list are expected to include top fund-raisers and politicians in cities around the country."

It almost sounded like Sen. John McCain was bidding farewell: "She has inspired generations of American women to believe that they can reach the highest office in this nation, and I respect her campaign, and I respect her," he said Monday in Nashville, ABC's Bret Hovell reports.

ABC's political unit has what to watch for in South Dakota and Montana, in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

The General:

What's waiting for Obama? He gets a bit of a preview Tuesday night in Louisiana, with McCain, R-Ariz., seeking to frame a race that will be a battle for the political center. (It's the first of two days of campaigning alongside Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. -- testing out the look?)

The Republican National Committee is set to release a strategy memo Tuesday -- headlined, "Democrat Disunity."

"First, he will inherit a fractured party that is deeply divided over his role as standard-bearer and his ability to be President.  Second, he will inherit a national party apparatus that has been significantly outraised throughout the cycle," the memo reads.

"Obama is not wearing well as a candidate and has lost momentum since his high point in February. The more people learn about him and his views, the less they support him.  Since March 4, he has lost a majority of primaries to Senator Clinton, including the all-important states of Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia. He lost Kentucky by 35 points, West Virginia by 41 points, and suffered a 36-point defeat in Puerto Rico.  Were it not for the Democratic proportional system of delegate allocation, these devastating defeats might very well have derailed his nomination." 

McCain took the fight to the AIPAC conference, where Obama and Clinton are both scheduled to speak Wednesday.

"Senator John McCain honed his national security message before Jewish leaders on Monday, saying Senator Barack Obama's policies toward Iraq and Iran would create chaos in the Middle East and endanger the United States and Israel," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times."The McCain campaign has been trying to take advantage of divisions in the Democratic Party and define Mr. Obama, who is still largely unknown to many voters, before he can lock up the nomination, when most of Mr. McCain's advisers expect him to get a significant bounce in the polls."

"We hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before," McCain said, per ABC's Bret Hovell.

Per The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon and Elizabeth Holmes: "Sen. McCain sought to set down a political marker with Jewish voters by pledging a hard line on Iran and a commitment to many of the policies AIPAC has been promoting. The American lobbying body has particularly pushed for an international divestment campaign from companies doing business in Iran, while also seeking more unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iranian state institutions, such as the central bank."

But more complications: "John McCain and Barack Obama have urged investors to steer clear of Iran, but their family investments include mutual funds with shares in companies doing business in the oil-rich country, their financial disclosures show,"Matt Kelley and Ken Dilanian write for USA Today. "Obama decided to sell his mutual fund investment after USA TODAY asked about it Monday, spokesman Ben LaBolt said."

Don't miss the Obama defense: "Senator Obama's campaign, in advance of the candidate's speech to America's largest pro-Israel lobby, is highlighting the candidate's support for designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard forces as a foreign terrorist organization," Eli Lake writes in the New York Sun. Yes, he voted against that Senate resolution, but his opposition "had not been the designation of the Iranian guard as a terrorist group, but the idea that it committed American troops in Iraq to countering Iranian influence," Lake reports.

Health Updates:

The two most senior members of the Senate remain hospitalized Tuesday morning.

"Surgeons at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., report that Sen. Ted Kennedy is doing well after nearly four hours of surgery [Monday] to remove a cancerous brain tumor," ABC's Dan Childs reports. "For part of the surgery, the 76-year-old Massachusetts senator was awake and conscious. . . . This relatively new and dramatic approach is being used by surgeons in cases when a malignant tumor isn't readily accessible on the surface of the brain."

"Kennedy's decision to undergo surgery was somewhat unexpected because, after his diagnosis May 20, his doctors did not mention surgery as an option," Michael Levenson writes in The Boston Globe. "Rather, they said the typical course of treatment involves radiation and chemotherapy. But after talking to [Dr. Allan] Friedman, Kennedy became convinced that he had found a more aggressive approach and that there was no time to waste."

Per the Globe's Stephen Smith and Carey Goldberg:"For his brain surgery yesterday, Senator Edward M. Kennedy turned to a bold doctor known for his willingness to operate when others might not and to a treatment center at Duke University whose motto is, 'There is Hope.' "

As for the senator who outranks Kennedy: "Ninety-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was hospitalized tonight after staffers noticed he was lethargic at work and a caregiver discovered he had a high temperature,"ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. "He is remaining overnight on the advice of his doctor, according to his spokesman, Jesse Jacobs, who said he was unsure which hospital his boss was at. It is unclear at this point if the hospitalization is anything more than precautionary."

Odds & Ends:

What almost was for McCain: "When he formally announced his presidential candidacy last year, Sen. John McCain was inches away from making an unprecedented pledge: if he were elected, he would serve only one term as president," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports. "The idea to serve one term had long been discussed among top advisers, and McCain was on board. A one-term pledge was set to be the central thread of his presidential campaign, and Mark Salter, McCain's chief speechwriter, crafted an announcement speech around it."

Getting their money's worth? "The presidential hopefuls this primary campaign spent almost $200 million talking to Americans on television, while interest groups spent nearly $8 million, according to an impressive new study by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG with analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project," ABC's Tahman Bradley reports. "With close to $75 million dished out for television ads, Sen. Obama, D-Ill., outspent the entire Republican presidential field by $18 million!"

The Kicker:

"And we don't even live in West Virginia. . . . You can say those things when you're not running for re-election." -- Vice President Dick Cheney, telling a crowd that he has Cheneys on both sides of his family. (His office apologized, calling it "an inappropriate attempt at humor.")

"I understand that my new in-laws are here, Sonny and Mary Black Eagle. My girls can't wait. They don't even know what it means, but they're excited." -- Michelle Obama, wrapping up a bizarre campaign where her husband had the honor of being adopted by an Indian tribe.

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