The wait ends. The drama, on the other hand, has barely begun.
It hasn't been pretty. It's lingering a little too long. But Democrats who feared a messy, divisive end to a too-long campaign that's been both of those things can breathe a little easier: It all ends on Saturday.
The Democratic Party has moved on -- and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recognized that the lights had been turned out on her bid for the nomination.
The sentence that for so long seemed unfathomable: "Ending her historic, hard fought bid to become the Democratic party's first woman presidential nominee, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will announce Saturday, surrounded by supporters, that she is conceding to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.," per ABC News.
From her e-mail to supporters, sent out overnight: "I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Senator Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee, and I intend to deliver on that promise."
Saturday could be quite a show, at a to-be-determined site in Washington: "Thousands invited to this -- everyone from people who gave $5 to multimillionaires," ABC's Kate Snow reported on "Good Morning America" Thursday.
"One adviser said Mrs. Clinton would concede defeat, congratulate Mr. Obama and proclaim him the party's nominee, while pledging to do what was needed to assure his victory in November," per The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny.
Ah yes -- what's needed. That offers just a hint of the latest campaign, promising all the intrigue and dramatic twists of the former one, just with slightly lower stakes (No. 2, not No. 1).
The Clintons aren't going anywhere. They didn't after Tuesday, won't after Saturday, and won't even after Obama chooses a running mate -- whenever and whomever that may be. (Isn't it the presumptive nominee who usually gets the benefit of a little presumptuousness?)
Not this time:
"The decision [by Clinton] came hours after the launch of an aggressive campaign by some of Clinton's supporters to encourage Obama to pick her as his running mate had further stoked tensions with backers of the senator from Illinois," The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Dan Balz report. "Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a prominent Clinton confidant, said in an interview that she was 'absolutely ready' to talk to Obama about the No. 2 slot and would take it if offered."
Johnson tells Balz that Clinton has authorized her supporters to press her case: "That affirmative desire is with Hillary. That's clear. The question is, is there affirmative desire on the part of Senator Obama," he said.
(If she really does want it, does public pressure truly help?)
She may get that. Per ABC News: "On a conference call with Democratic supporters Wednesday, Clinton indicated she would accept the vice presidential nomination if it was offered, but that she doesn't want people to lobby Obama on her behalf for it." Said a Democratic member of Congress who spoke to Clinton Wednesday: "She said, 'Look, I'm not fighting for that. If it helps them, fine. If it doesn't, that's fine, too.' "
Rangel told ABC's Kate Snow: "Unless she has some good reasons -- which I can't think of -- I really think we ought to get on with endorsements [of Obama] and dealing with what we have to deal with . . . so we can move forward."
And Obama's imprint is already being felt on the party: Per ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the Democratic National Committee will no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists and PACs, in keeping with Obama's well-publicized policy.
Yet the Clintons remain outsized presences in the race -- and will be even after this odd three-day period where everyone knows what's going to happen but the event itself has yet to take place.
"Her initial reluctance to back Obama and the continuing mystery over how exactly she will end her historic campaign had party faithful asking today: What is she waiting for, and what does she want?" Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "The New York senator has yet to publicly acknowledge that Obama beat her for the nomination, leaving some of his supporters -- and even some of hers -- perplexed and disappointed."
(More than a few Democrats point out that both President Bush and Condoleezza Rice beat Clinton to congratulating Obama on winning the nomination.)
She has important options yet: "She could, for example, release her more than 1,900 delegates to Obama and be through as a presidential candidate. Or she could suspend her candidacy and keep control of her delegates, maintaining her political leverage until the Democratic National Convention in August," Peter Nicholas and Mark Z.Barabak report in the Los Angeles Times.
"She will continue to pursue the possibility of being Obama's vice presidential running mate, people close to her said, and is expected to keep 1,922 delegates after garnering the support of a record-breaking 18 million voters," Newsday's Glenn Thrush reports.
Not everyone's dreaming, and Obama wouldn't need this three-person vice-presidential committee -- Caroline Kennedy, Eric Holder, and Jim Johnson -- if the pick was made for him. It's time to start dropping names -- and Obama is under no particular rush, except that being applied by Clinton allies who want her name on a bumper sticker already.
"I think it's very important for me to meet with her and talk to her about how we move this party forward," Obama told ABC's Charlie Gibson Wednesday. "My main goal is to make sure that the party is unified."
That doesn't necessarily mean a unity ticket.
"Close advisers to Sen. Obama are signaling that an Obama-Clinton ticket is highly unlikely," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal."Some in the Clinton camp also noted a possible deal-breaker for a party-unity ticket: Bill Clinton may balk at releasing records of his business dealings and big donors to his presidential library. . . . A former president's global travels for his humanitarian foundation, speeches here and abroad for which he has received up to a quarter-million dollars, financial deals and everyday utterances could pose 'a whole host' of conflicts with the policies of an Obama administration, Democrats on both sides say."
Former President Jimmy Carter is in the nightmare camp: "I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made,"Carter told The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland. "That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates."
Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., delivers the lesson in politics: "There's no bargaining," he tells NY1. "You don't bargain with the presidential nominee. Even if you're Hillary Clinton and you have 18 million votes, you don't bargain. . . . The rule for the vice president is make sure you never upstage the president."
Dick Morris: "He gets nothing but an unbelievable headache and a disaster for his campaign," Morris tells the Washington Times' Joseph Curl.
Did she miss her best chance? "Hillary Clinton talked her way out of the vice presidency on Tuesday night," E.J. Dionne Jr. writes. "Clinton's choice was to present Obama with an implicit critique that might be seen as a set of demands."
"If Hillary really wants to be vice president, she's damaged her chances -- always slim, at best -- by refusing to acknowledge Obama's narrow but solid victory and positioning herself as an embittered obstructionist," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News."So what's her game? It may be as simple as R-E-S-P-E-C-T. With 18 million votes in her pantsuit pocket, she's entitled, and Obama knows it."
Back to the dreamers -- outside pressure edition. "VoteBoth, a group founded by two former aides to Hillary Rodham Clinton, is ramping up its fundraising efforts with the expectation of sponsoring television ads in key swing states urging presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to pick Clinton as his running-mate," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza reports.
Another type of dreamer: "Veteran Republican fundraisers and strategists hope that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) can revive their party's apathetic base even as her 2008 presidential campaign has reached its final hours," per The Hill's Alexander Bolton.
As negotiations begin, follow the money. Former senator Tom Daschle says helping Clinton retire her debt is on the table: "Certainly that is something that would be on the table," Daschle, D-S.D.,told Bloomberg News. "Obviously we want to help each other."
As auditions go, her presidential campaign would have gotten her on the "American Idol" stage -- but she would probably have been voted off.
"As he decides whether to invite Clinton to continue making history with him, Obama has her 16-month campaign to study. It's a mixed picture," Jill Lawrence writes for USA Today.
In the end, it was the superdelegates -- the party insiders who were supposed to be her bulwark of support -- who did her in. "The break in Mrs. Clinton's supposed firewall turned out to be one of the most important factors in her campaign," Katharine Q. Seelye writes in The New York Times. (And the Obama campaign mastered the timing of the rollout.)
"I think it's a mystery and an irony, and an irony in the sense that Hillary was seen as inevitable when it didn't matter and Obama was seen as inevitable when it did," strategist Geoff Garin tells The Washington Post.
Mark Penn (sidling up to martyrdom): "The superdelegates and elites kept drifting away, but the working class became more and more enthusiastic about her," he said. "She had truly become the president for the invisibles that she talked about all campaign, starting in New Hampshire."
But maybe Obama needs Clinton -- he didn't exactly wow the world in his final push to the nomination.
"The Illinois senator moves forward from the primaries after a string of losses, a rocky breakup with his longtime church, and an apparent weakness in attracting the white, working-class demographic seen as crucial to a Democratic victory in November," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal.
It's a fight for the center: "What Democrats are just beginning to figure out is that John McCain is positioned to compete with Obama for the votes of the many Americans who are eager to put the hyper-partisanship of the past eight years behind them and witness a Washington that finally begins to address the nation's challenges," David Broder writes in his Washington Post column.
On to the General:
These town-hall-style debates could actually happen. It's a bold gambit by Team McCain (albeit in keeping with the let's-debate-more mantra of the lesser-funded campaign) that could truly remake the race: As both candidates have learned, any one encounter can alter the course of a candidacy.
"Senator John McCain Wednesday invited his newly-anointed fellow presumptive nominee to a string of casual debates at town hall-style meetings to take place over the course of the summer," per ABC's Bret Hovell. (He's asking for 10 -- but do they really need to meet every week between now and Labor Day?)
It would "rewrite the book on debates," Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The timetable would make the debates the first between major-party candidates to occur before Labor Day weekend -- the traditional start of the fall campaign season. They also would be the first between candidates who have yet to formally receive their parties' nominations."
Format issues remain -- but there's an agreement in principle. "Oh, we're definitely going to be doing some town hall debates," Obama told ABC's Charlie Gibson.
"In the letter, [McCain] proposed flying to the first town hall meeting in the same plane as a symbol that they are 'embracing the politics of civility,' " Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "The decision to challenge Obama to joint town hall meetings was widely seen as a recognition that McCain is more comfortable in that forum than he is behind a lectern, where Obama is strong."
Also unprecedented: "Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are quietly working together on a good-government bill despite their campaign-trail battle over who is tougher against Washington's special interests," reports The Hill's Susan Crabtree. "McCain's Senate office contacted Obama's office Monday night asking to sign on to a bill opening federal government contracts to public scrutiny, according to three knowledgeable sources."
Obama at AIPAC:
Don't let the brief Clinton-Obama encounter at the AIPAC convention distract from the substance here: His speech Wednesday was a rather significant move to the right on Middle East policy.
Eleven months after saying he would sit down with Iran's leader "without precondition," Obama said Wednesday: "Contrary to the claims to some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing if and only if it can advance the interest of the United States. That is my position. I want to be absolutely clear."
"Now Obama has put a major condition on his willingness to meet with Iran: he will meet only if such a meeting advances the interests of the U.S.," ABC's Jonathan Karl reports. "That is not much different from the Bush Administration's position on negotiations with Iran."
And, per The Boston Globe's Farah Stockman: "Barack Obama pledged unwavering support for Israel, vowed to use military force -- if necessary -- to keep Iran in check, and endorsed the idea that any peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians must preserve Israel as a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital."
"Addressing AIPAC -- long considered one of Washington's most influential lobbies -- has become almost a requirement for presidential candidates seeking the Jewish vote," Noam N. Levey reports in the Los Angeles Times. "But there was an added imperative for Obama, who has battled accusations that he is overly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and too willing to negotiate with Iran's controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."
"For Obama, the AIPAC conference seemed like a tough room to work," Robert Dreyfuss writes for The Nation. "But, by all indications, he wowed 'em."
Hamas was listening -- they "un-endorsed" Obama, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Obama's comments have confirmed that there will be no change in the U.S. administration's foreign policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict," a Hamas official told Reuters. The sentence the Obama campaign will long cherish: "Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and McCain."
Veepstake alert: Obama campaigns in Virginia on Thursday alongside Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and former governor (and Senate candidate) Mark Warner, D-Va.
No Clinton public appearances are scheduled until Saturday's event with her supporters in Washington, though she's speaking with members of the Congressional Black Caucus Thursday.
McCain campaigns in Florida, addressing the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and Florida Press Association Convention.
President Bush spends the day at the White House.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., gets from Wall Street Journal attention: "The similarities between the 36-year-old Gov. Jindal and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are tantalizing to many in the Grand Old Party," write Corey Dade and Elizabeth Holmes. "After only 143 days as the nation's youngest sitting governor, Gov. Jindal's name is being bandied about as a potential running mate for likely Republican presidential nominee Sen. McCain."
Mitt Romney, R-Mass., campaigns in Virginia with state-wide and congressional candidates.
Romney gets an endorsement for No. 2 from Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. "I hope I'm starting a movement," she tells The Hill's Jackie Kucinich.
Also in the News:
A verdict, finally: "A federal jury Wednesday convicted developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko of corruption charges for trading on his clout as a top adviser and fundraiser to Gov. Rod Blagojevich," per Bob Secter and Jeff Coen of the Chicago Tribune. "Rezko's guilty verdict on 16 of 24 corruption counts could have broad repercussions for Blagojevich, who made Rezko a central player in his kitchen cabinet. It could also prove a political liability for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who once counted Rezko as a friend and fundraiser, as the likely Democratic presidential nominee heads into the general election campaign against Republican John McCain."
Too late for Hillary -- but not for the RNC. New Website alert: RezkoJudgment.com.
"Given our expenses, I know my campaign would agree to it." -- John McCain, proposing that he share a plane with Barack Obama when headed to the town-hall-style debates he's calling for.
"Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty scary." -- Barack Obama, deadpanning at AIPAC about the e-mail whispering campaign that continues to rage about his background.
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