The Note: Last Dance

Since she asked herself the question and everything -- what does Hillary want, after all? (And, more importantly for a Democratic Party that's in desperate need of some healing time, how badly does she want it?)

Sen. Barack Obama made history Tuesday -- a first term senator defying all of the odds in becoming the first black candidate to become a party standard-bearer. Yet even before he could claim the nomination in St. Paul, he was reminded that the party he's inheriting comes with some rather significant baggage -- including an angry slice of the base, and an opponent (plus spouse) who won't quite go away.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech Tuesday in New York may well have been one of the best of her campaign -- but the point is there is no more campaign, no real reason to stay in the race, not if the goal is the nomination she's been running for all this time.

Handling Clinton -- massaging the egos and desires of a bunch that's not wanting in either of those departments -- could well be more important than anything Obama does in his general election against Sen. John McCain.

"Until he deals with the Clinton question, it could be hard for Mr. Obama to move on to what he would like to achieve next," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "Mrs. Clinton's actions on Tuesday could not have raised her stock with Mr. Obama. Whether she intended to or not, her remarks pulled the spotlight away from him, reminding him that in many ways, she is a character that is hard to push off the stage."

Clinton may well covet the vice presidency (though, of course, she'd still prefer the top spot), and brings a long list to her inevitable endgame negotiations with Obama: campaign debt, policy matters, her role in the campaign, her husband's role, which staffers land where.

But how exactly did she help her case for all of that by telling her supporters she wants to hear from them on her Website -- fostering the very spirit of insurgency ("Denver! Denver!") the party wants and needs to put behind itself for the fall?

This is playing with political fire: "I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible," Clinton said.

(Are they disrespected, mute, and ignored if they don't win an election -- or get the consolation prize?)

The AP's Ron Fournier answers the question Clinton herself posed: "She will press her case for relevancy at the risk of widening the divide between Barack Obama's supporters and her older, whiter, working-class coalition," Fournier writes. "Clinton did not bow out Tuesday because she wants to retain her political leverage, advisers said privately, eying a spot on the ticket, a convention role and perhaps other benefits." x

Sen. Clinton has every right to want what she wants -- and she's still likely to move aside by week's end -- but shouldn't this week be all about what Obama wants?

"Not only did Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., not concede tonight, she didn't even congratulate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, for having secured the Democratic presidential nomination," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "She said Obama inspired Americans to care about politics, and empowered people to get involved -- but nothing about his rather historic accomplishment."

Indeed, it was Obama congratulating Clinton late Tuesday, on her win in South Dakota; he got her voicemail, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

They finally spoke at 12:18 am ET, and Obama reiterated his desire "to sit down when it makes sense to you." The Obama campaign characterizes Clinton's response as, "I'm sure that will happen" -- but no meeting is set (though their paths will practically cross Wednesday when they make morning speeches at the AIPAC meeting in Washington).

As for Tuesday: "It was an extraordinary performance by a woman who had been counted out of the race even when she still had a legitimate chance. Now she had been mathematically eliminated -- and she spoke as if she had won," The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes. "For a candidate who had just lost the nomination, she seemed very much in charge. That must be what Hillary wants."

"In what should have been Obama's big, historic night -- he did, after all, win the nomination -- Clinton rained on his reign," Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Daily News.   If Clinton's actions are any gauge, she appears to want the vice presidency -- or at least to be able to want it when she decides what she wants. Why else drop that oh-so-subtle hint in the conference call with New York lawmakers? (Did she not think this would become very public?)

"I am open to it," she told members of her home state's congressional delegation, according to the Associated Press.

The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes: "Sen. Clinton told them she wouldn't definitively end her 17-month campaign despite Sen. Obama's delegate lead. This will give her more leverage in talks with the Illinois senator."

"One member of Congress on the calltold ABC News it was 'the first time we've gotten the green light' on the question of the so-called Democratic 'dream ticket.' "

Lanny Davis, a card-carrying member of the Clinton inner circle, goes a step further, circulating a petition that calls on Obama to choose Clinton, per ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "We write to urge you to select Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to be your choice for vice president because we believe that she would be, by far, the most qualified and strongest candidate to be your running mate," *the petition reads.*

And: "Clinton's national finance chairman, Hassan Nemazee, said he was also pushing an Obama-Clinton ticket, claiming that together they would be able to raise $200 million to $250 million for the general election," per the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn and Beth Fouhy. Leon Panetta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, raises the stakes: "It may be his first test as to whether or not he's prepared to be president of the United States,"Panetta tells The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein. "If you want to be president, you're going to have to be flexible in terms of what the most effective way is to get your message across to the American people."

"What she's trying to do is keep all of her options open," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "Barack Obama is facing his next big presidential test. . . . Does he show toughness and maturity by getting over whatever personal pique he has and putting her on the ticket? Or does he show toughness and maturity by matching hardball with hardball and denying her the spot?"

What if the push is all a big reason to say no? "Clinton's unwillingness to recognize Obama as the victor only increased the need for Obama to act like a president and not like a doormat. And denying her a vice presidential slot may be a way of doing that," Politico's Roger Simon writes.

Here's one big hint as to Obamaland's thinking -- just maybe paving a road out of the dream: "If she were considered as vice president, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, might have to release all records of contributions to his foundation and presidential library and agree not to give paid speeches, according to a person close to the Obama campaign," Bloomberg's Catherine Dodge and Kim Chipman report.

"That could prove a major impediment to her being selected. Bill Clinton, who has made some $52 million from giving speeches over the past seven years, has said he won't disclose details on past contributions, only those going forward," they write.

Does Clinton want it? Does the party need it? This, at least: "Her supporters are going to want to know that she was consulted about it," Clinton ally James Carville said on "GMA."

"Late into the night, she was meeting with wealthy donors up in New York, well past midnight," ABC's Kate Snow reports. "They want her on that ticket. And Clinton seemed to encourage that kind of talk by telling her 18 million or so supporters that they ought to go on her Website and drop messages to her. . . . That's perhaps to put pressure on Obama, to build some momentum to put her on the ticket."

From the campaign's official talking points for surrogates, per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:"Senator Clinton was asked whether she was open to the idea of running as Vice-President and repeated what she has said before: she will do whatever she can to ensure that Democrats take the White House back and defeat John McCain."

Why should Obama rush this, particularly when Clinton isn't rushing for the exit? "There is no short list. There is no long list," new Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass said on "GMA" Wednesday.

Whose dream is it, anyway? "While [a Clinton-Obama ticket] would likely produce a jolt of enthusiasm and unity for a party that has been divided by the contest, it is less clear that the so called dream ticket would strengthen Obama's chances of beating McCain in November," Mark Halperin writes for Time. "And some of Obama's advisers looked aghast at Bill Clinton's vituperative public outburst Monday night over a new Vanity Fair story pillorying his post-presidential behavior and associates."

Newsweek's Howard Fineman scripts the dance: "Clinton absolutely does NOT want the job of vice president, no matter what others are saying about it. . . . Obama, for his part, does not want her to be his vice presidential nominee. No way. . . . But there is talk that Obama will tentatively offer, or make some kind of gesture in that direction of the VP slot to Hillary, but ONLY, ONLY on the understanding that she promise in advance (through intermediaries if not directly) NOT to accept."

She's ignored at his own risk: "She has almost as many delegates as he does, giving her the ability to keep him from uniting the party and presiding over a harmonious Democratic convention," Fred Barnes writes for The Weekly Standard."For him, it's a moment of peril, not joy. And the whole world is watching."

How long can she push this? "Aides said the end is likely to come by week's end but could be signaled as soon as today," per Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post.

She won't have much longer than that; a letter signed Wednesday morning by the Big Four of the Democratic Party's elected leadership seeks to take care of that.

"Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election," reads the letter, signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Governors Association Chairman Joe Manchin, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean (none of whom have officially endorsed themselves, mind you, but this is a very long week).

"To that end, we are urging all remaining uncommitted super delegates to make their decisions known by Friday of this week so that our party can stand united and begin our march toward reversing the eight years of failed Bush/McCain policies that have weakened our country."

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen takes their advice: "I look forward to working with him during this campaign and as our next President," Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a statement out Wednesday morning.

The math is now beyond settled -- a flood of superdelegates took care of that, and no one wants to be the last one to show up at the party.

It was "a choreographed effort to settle his epic battle," per Michael Finnegan and Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times. "The staging was evident, most of all when Obama's campaign announced a burst of more than two dozen new superdelegates just minutes before he walked on stage here in an arena packed with 17,000 cheering supporters."

Few are predicting that Clinton will linger: "Her statesmanship during the hours and days ahead will knit together what people believe is a fractured party," former DNC chairman Steve Grossman, a Clinton backer, told USA Today's Fredreka Schouten and Martha T. Moore. "Republicans won't have much to cheer about."

Among Obama's challenges: The money.

"Several of Mr. Obama's finance officials say that if Mrs. Clinton drops out of the race, they will invite her top fund-raisers to join his national finance committee at a meeting in Chicago on June 19," Christopher Drew and Leslie Wayne write in The New York Times."They estimate that the well-connected Clinton team could raise $50 million to $75 million for Mr. Obama and even more for the Democratic Party, adding to the already record-shattering amounts his campaign is receiving from small donors over the Internet."

Variety's Ted Johnson: "Plans are being drawn up for the candidate to make a visit to Los Angeles later this month and to reach out --- in some cases personally --- to those in the Clinton camp."

The General:

And McCain, R-Ariz., took the stage Tuesday night before either Democrat to remind his opponents of the urgency.

"In a prime-time speech designed to upstage Obama on the night he claimed the Democratic nomination, McCain began what top aides and other Republicans promise will be an aggressive effort to claim the mantles of reform, experience and mainstream values," per The Washington Post's Michael Shear and Juliet Eilperin. "Obama, he said, is an 'impressive man' but one with a thin record."

"If I'm going to win this election, a key to winning this election will be independent voters and Democrats as well," McCain told ABC's Ron Claiborne. "It's about who's most qualified to lead this country."

Asked why he didn't recognize the historic nature of Obama's candidacy, McCain may have remembered that the first female nominee would have marked a historic moment as well: "I congratulated Senator Obama not because of any reason except that he is-- run a very effective campaign," he said.

In his speech, "McCain challenged Obama's attempts to link him to the unpopular President Bush. He said Obama repeatedly says that the Republicans offer a 'third Bush term' because the Illinois senator 'knows it's very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false,' "David Jackson writes for USA Today. "At one point, McCain turned the Bush issue on Obama, noting that he voted for an energy bill backed by the administration. McCain said he opposed that bill because it gave 'more breaks to the oil industry.' "

(But by taking on the Bush-third-term argument, right at the start of the general election, is Team McCain signaling some worry that the label just might stick?) Think McCain is paying attention to the party's cracks? "McCain was especially respectful [toward Clinton] on Tuesday night, citing Clinton's 'tenacity and courage' and suggesting she didn't get a fair shake from the press," writes Newsweek's Holly Bailey.

The RNC has already posted the highlight reel of Clinton saying not-so-nice things about the now-presumptive Democratic nominee.

Is Obama stronger for the struggle? "The crises and controversies that Obama navigated during the long primary season could prove to have been good preparation for the clashes to come," Doyle MacManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "His campaign sputtered in the final run of primaries, winning only four of the last 10 contests, but it is still raising more money than any previous presidential effort. The Democratic electorate is divided, but that's not unusual by historical standards -- and nothing a strong endorsement from Clinton won't fix."

And what a match-up: "It is difficult to envision a more stark contrast. Young versus old. Liberal versus conservative. And perhaps most important, black versus white," Michael Tackett writes in the Chicago Tribune."With Sen. Barack Obama crawling to the finish line after a marathon string of primaries, caucuses, speeches and debates to become the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee, one fundamental question about race in America was answered: Would a major political party nominate a minority candidate? History's march took him a few more steps than he might have liked, but he made it."

The Sked:

Obama is set to speak at the AIPAC meeting at the Washington Convention Center at 9:55 am ET, with Clinton set to make the last appearance on her public schedule about half an hour later.

Obama also addresses the SEIU Conference (via satellite) at the Puerto Rican Convention Center.

McCain campaigns in Louisiana, alongside Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., for a second straight day.

President Bush meets with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, and the White House congressional picnic is Wednesday evening.

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

What Went Wrong:

Clinton underestimated Obama: "Flash in the pan," Mark Penn said last spring at a social event, referring to the junior senator from Illinois, per The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan. Milligan: "Penn's offhand remark reveals the mistakes made by a Clinton campaign that failed to take Obama's candidacy -- or his supporters -- seriously enough at the outset, and did not prepare for the long-haul fight Obama was ready to wage for the nomination."

Clinton ran the wrong playbook, in the wrong year: "The failure of Hillary Clinton's campaign may be due as much to George W. Bush as Barack Obama," writes Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen. "Clinton's bid for the White House started as an echo of the 2000 race won by the current president, a Republican who's also her favorite target. Like Bush, Clinton created a tightly controlled campaign backed by her party's establishment and based on the idea that she was the inevitable Democratic nominee."

It was inevitability, stupid: "Her campaign, it would turn out, was based on a series of fundamental miscalculations -- about the mood of the electorate, the threat posed by Sen. Barack Obama and even the basic rules of the Democratic primary process," per ABC News."In retrospect, the mistakes started with a faulty assumption: That inevitability itself could underpin the rationale for a presidential candidacy, even in the face of a deep Democratic desire for change and the wide enthusiasm that greeted a first-term senator from Illinois."

Maybe it was about gender after all: "The country wanted a Mom, and Hillary gave them a Dad," Matthew Dowd writes in his blog. "She tried to hard to demonstrate her toughness and strength and voters wanted more caretaking and sensitivity." To switch metaphors: "Obama was the Ipod of this election, while Clinton was the Walkman."

It was everyone else's fault: "Oh, woe is she! Just ask Hillary," Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News. "Or Bill, or the legion of hard-core Clinton boosters who think just about everything that went wrong with her campaign is the fault of bad luck or someone else."

Or maybe Obama and his team just got it right: "It was a triumph of charisma and soaring oratory -- two of the oldest commodities in politics -- fused with a thoroughly modern campaign that harnessed the Internet like never before," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times."His message -- boiled down to two words, hope and change -- never wavered."

They actually listened to the facts everyone knew: "The insurgent strategy they devised instead was to virtually cede the most important battlegrounds of the Democratic nomination fight to Clinton, using precision targeting to minimize her delegate hauls, while going all out to crush her in states where Democratic candidates rarely ventured and causes that were often ignored," per The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman, Shailagh Murray, and Peter Slevin.

Don't miss the history: "On the cusp of becoming the first African-American to capture a major party nomination, Mr. Obama remains a protean political figure, inspiring devotion in supporters who see him as a transformative leader even as he remains inscrutable to critics," Michael Powell writes in The New York Times. "He has the gift of making people see themselves in him and offers an enigmatic smile when asked about his multiracial appeal."

Obama gives Powell a quote that cuts both ways: "I am like a Rorschach test," he said.

Also Making News:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., survives his primary scare: "Vanquishing concerns about his age and a challenger 34 years his junior, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg easily won the Democratic nomination for a fifth term Tuesday night by defeating Rep. Rob Andrews,"per Robert Schwaneberg of The Star-Ledger.

Seriously -- 30 signatures short? "In a major embarrassment to Republican leaders in Massachusetts and in the U.S. Senate, Jim Ogonowski, the party's anointed candidate to challenge Democratic Senator John F. Kerry, failed by a razor-thin margin today to qualify for the GOP primary ballot,"The Boston Globe's Frank Phillips reports.

It's not just presidential candidates at AIPAC -- they're getting some assists from their friends in Congress on Wednesday.

Sen. Reid, D-Nev., plans to say: "Every Democratic President ­from Truman to Clinton ­ has strengthened that bond [between Israel and the U.S.] by providing for Israel's security and brokering peace. And with the Democratic nominee, that bond ­ that ironclad commitment ­ will remain as strong as ever. . . . Don't let anyone looking to politicize the issue of Israel ­ tell you otherwise."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will have a different message: "The United States must not reward destructive behavior through endless and unconditional 'dialogue,' " he plans to say, per his office (any guesses as to who he's talking about?) "Our message should be clear and unmistakable:  We will not legitimize a leader who has repeatedly threatened the very existence of Israel and the United States."

Wednesday could be the day for the Rezko verdict -- or not.

The Kicker:

"I'm doing fine, but I thought this was off-limits, basketball. I'm doing alright." -- Barack Obama, emerging from his election-morning basketball ritual, to ABC's Sunlen Miller (about to learn that the limits are shifting).

"I'm still in the cave." -- James Carville, on "GMA," saying he'll write a check to Obama as soon as Hillary Clinton gives him the go-ahead.

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