The Note: Mountain Climbing

If Sen. Barack Obama has already locked down the nomination, why are the Democratic voters of West Virginia jiggling the keys?

Your spinmeisters' challenges on a seemingly anticlimactic day that could nonetheless mean something to this race:

- Camp Clinton wants us to think that a blowout in West Virginia matters, even if it won't do a thing to touch the delegate math.

- Obamaland wants us not to care that the probable Democratic nominee is about to get blown out in a swing state, since it won't do a thing to touch the delegate math.

- Team McCain just wants us to care about the math of the Democratic race to keep this race alive for as long as possible (and not pay so much attention to would-be spoilers).

Whether or not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can make the Mountain State shift the political plates -- and whether or not it matters at all at this point -- one candidate will have a stronger argument for her case to superdelegates with a big win, and the other will have a weaker argument for his case with a big loss.

If West Virginia comes in as expected -- as even Obama, oddly conceding defeat a day early, says he expects -- Clinton, D-N.Y., will have an excuse to stick around for a while, if that's what she's looking for.

"She and her chief political counselor, her husband, see the two coming primaries [in West Virginia and Kentucky] as crucial to strengthening her standing and, if it comes to it, to allowing her to leave the race on a high note," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "Accumulating victories this late in the primary season -- as Mr. Obama looks so strong -- might also bolster a bid for the vice presidency, should she decide to seek it."

"Her campaign hopes a dramatic win will re-focus public attention on the Democratic contest, even though Obama and much of the national media seem intent on moving on to the general election," James Oliphant writes in the Chicago Tribune.

Barring a shocker, party insiders will learn again that Obama, D-Ill., has a very real problem with working-class Democrats, just in the off-chance that superdelegates are still paying attention to such things.

"Obama needs to be able to convince voters like these that he cares about them, shares their values, and will change their lives," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "If these Democrats vote for Clinton, the presumptive loser, overwhelmingly -- as is predicted -- that indicates a real problem for Obama."

"As the Illinois senator shifts his focus to the general election, he must prove he can win over the state's working-class white voters," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Twenty-eight delegates are at stake in West Virginia. Polls opened at 6:30 am ET and close at 7:30 pm -- with early turnout "steady, not particularly heavy," per the Secretary of State's office. The forecast is overcast and foggy through much of the state, but no severe weather is expected.

The Democratic rank-and-file doesn't seem to mind the fun: "Pushing back against political punditry, more than six in 10 Democrats say there's no rush for Hillary Clinton to leave the presidential race -- even as Barack Obama consolidates his support for the nomination and scores solidly in general-election tests," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes.

Obama has a 12-point edge over Clinton nationally -- and just as important for the argument to the super-D's, he leads McCain 51-44 in a hypothetical head-to-head, compared to Clinton's 49-46 lead. (Obama, for the first time, is viewed as the "stronger leader.")

The party likes to dream: "Clinton continues as the preferred choice as Obama's running mate, with 39 percent of Democrats saying they'd like him to pick her if he's the nominee. That peaks at 59 percent of African-Americans, 47 percent of Clinton supporters and 42 percent of women (vs. 34 percent of men)," Langer writes.

In the new USA Today/Gallup Poll, 55 percent of Democrats say the race should go on, but the portion favoring a quick end is growing, up 12 points in a week to 35 percent.

As to whether it matters . . . Obama picked up four more supers on Monday, including a Clinton switcher. Your tally since last Tuesday: Obama is plus-24, Clinton is even. Obama's delegate edge is up to 181, per ABC's delegate scorecard -- and he's 151 away from clinching the nomination.

This makes it worse: Jack B. Johnson, one of Clinton's PLEDGED delegates from Maryland, is vowing to support Obama at the convention (and we thought it was Camp Clinton that was interested in poaching). "I cannot in good conscience go to the convention and not support Barack," Johnson, the Prince George's County executive (who's switched allegiances once before), tells The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman.

A fresh super-D on Tuesday: Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is endorsing Obama, per his campaign (putting Obama up 18 in the super category, just four days after passing Clinton for the first time, by ABC's count).

Obama spent barely four hours in West Virginia Monday -- and ready or not, he's in (almost) full general-election mode now. (Though McClatchy's Margaret Talev notices that he found a flag pin to affix to his lapel during his one and only campaign event in the state, and this time, it was billiards instead of bowling.)

Obama skips ahead to Missouri Tuesday afternoon, and has announced stops in Michigan and Florida (hard to miss that symbolism) in the coming weeks, even as the final primaries take place elsewhere, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

"Looking past what is expected to be an easy win for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the West Virginia primary, Obama (Ill.) will embrace a two-track strategy that assumes she will continue to campaign aggressively in the remaining five primaries but allows him to increasingly shift his focus to the presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)," The Washington Post's Peter Slevin and Anne Kornblut write.

"His campaign is eager to begin engaging McCain more directly, hoping to etch his profile with the broader electorate before the Republican candidate does it for him."

Clinton is seeking to run up the score, as she tries to catch Obama in the popular vote -- and find a way to revive a race that's been declared dead. "This is going to be a crucial turning point in this election and I want you to know that if you stand up for me tomorrow then I will stand up for you," she said Monday in West Virginia, ABC's Eloise Harper reports.

When is a win a loss (for the party)? "Even if, as expected, Clinton has a big win in West Virginia, it won't much improve her chances of clinching the nomination," Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Kristin Jensen write. "Yet it may encourage her to continue her campaign, using tactics that could hurt Obama in November."

"Senator Clinton is poised for one of her most lopsided victories, but it comes at a time when the voice of Democratic primary voters arguably matters the least to her chances of overtaking Senator Obama," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun.

Might this have been a hint? The New York Post's Charles Hurt notices that the video Clinton sent to supporters Monday mentions fighting on to West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon -- but makes no mention of Puerto Rico, Montana, and South Dakota. The omission is "leading to speculation that she might pull the plug on her campaign after what are expected to be strong wins in West Virginia and Kentucky," Hurt writes.

She may not want the job, but she's got some home-state lobbying saying she'd make a fine No. 2. Three senior Democrats from New York -- Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Charles Rangel, and former mayor Ed Koch -- all want her to think about a spot at Obama's side. "They would be a very powerful ticket," Koch tells the New York Daily News' Michael Saul and David Saltonstall.

Clinton and Obama are most likely to cross paths in the Capitol on Tuesday, as they vote on a key labor bill (and stick around for lunch) before heading back on their separate tracks. No word yet on whether they'll share any private words -- but surely they've got something to discuss. . . .

"Both sides say . . . that there's no plans for the two senators to meet today," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "But there's two chances for that to happen [-- during the Senate vote, and at the Democratic caucus lunch]. There could be some sort of discussion."

They can jointly celebrate the new ABC News/Washington Post poll numbers: "Americans are gloomier about the direction of the country than they have been at any point in 15 years, and Democrats hold their biggest advantage since early 1993 as the party better able to deal with the nation's main problems," the Post's Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write.

Grim news in the poll for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: An 82 percent wrong-track figure, and President Bush is at his career-low approval rating, at 31 percent.

Bush who? "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a sharp break with President Bush on Monday, saying that the United States should adopt mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions as well as issue tradable emissions credits to polluters to spur technological innovation," Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post.

Who's he talking about here, do you think? "I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges," McCain said.

"McCain's trip was designed to position him for the general election against the yet-to-be-determined Democrat -- and Oregon is expected to be among the states, just as it was in 2000 and 2004, where both major-party presidential candidates will be competitive," Peter Wong writes in the Salem (Ore.) Statesman-Journal.

And yet: "In a last-minute move highlighting the delicacy of climate-change politics, John McCain on Monday decided not to utter a line in a prepared speech suggesting he would as president penalize industrializing countries that refuse to commit to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions," Stephen Power and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.

The Sked:

After attending to some Senate business, Clinton ends her evening in Charleston, W.Va. Obama hits Kentucky early and Missouri late, with Senate time squeezed in between. McCain is in Washington State to continue his environmental tour.

President Bush heads to the Middle East Tuesday night, but first comes an online (and also on-camera) interview conducted by Politico's Mike Allen.

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

I'll be live-blogging the election returns Tuesday evening, with the latest from exit polls, vote returns, and ABC reporters in the field.

Mississippi Special:

Your daily dose of tea leaves: a special election in Mississippi, the latest in the proxy wars of spring 2008. "If Travis W. Childers, a Prentiss County Chancery Clerk, beats Republican Greg Davis, mayor of Southaven, wins Tuesday's election, he would be the third Democrat in recent weeks to take over a Republican-held seat," CQ's Rachel Kapochunas writes.

"After back-to-back Democratic victories in competitive special elections this spring Democrats have a golden opportunity today to land a crushing blow to GOP confidence just six months before the November elections," Roll Call's John McArdle and Lauren W. Whittington write.

Vice President Dick Cheney made an election-eve visit on behalf of Davis: "What we need in Washington is a strong conservative congressman from Mississippi, not another Democrat going to bat for Nancy Pelosi," Cheney said, per The Washington Post's Dan Eggen.

Pelosi, D-Calif., isn't the only national Democrat on the ballot, sort of: "Republicans in this mostly white and very conservative district are trying to make the vote more a referendum on Senator Barack Obama than on the candidates themselves," Adam Nossiter writes in The New York Times. "Republicans say Mr. Obama's liberal values are out of place in the district. But for many Democratic veterans here, the tactic is a throwback to the old and unwelcome politics of race, a standby in Mississippi campaigning."

Barr for President:

From "Borat" star to possible spoiler: McCain gets a new pebble for his shoe -- and conservatives get an outlet for their frustrations.

"Former GOP congressman Bob Barr announced yesterday he would seek the Libertarian nomination for president, threatening to deprive Republican John McCain of critical votes in key battleground states that the GOP needs to hold on to the White House," The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan writes.

"Barr confirmed that he was asked by McCain supporters not to run for fear he would pull votes from the GOP, but he defended his decision by saying that 'American voters deserve better than simply the lesser of two evils,' " Johanna Neuman writes in the Los Angeles Times.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post: "If this makes Barr a spoiler, he doesn't seem to mind. 'I daresay that those people who would be inclined . . . to vote for Bob Barr as president would not likely fall into the category of people who would be enthused about voting for John McCain -- if such exists,' he said with relish."

Obama and the Jews:

Obama is addressing concerns of Jewish voters: "Senator Barack Obama has stepped up his efforts to reach out to the Jewish community over the past month, giving speeches and granting interviews to confront questions about the militant Palestinian group Hamas and his commitment to Jewish causes and values," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times.

That includes an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on The Atlantic's Website that includes this exchange:

Goldberg: "Do you think that Israel is a drag on America's reputation overseas?"

Obama: "No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I'm not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that's the safest ground politically."

Wonder what phrases McCain loyalists jumped on? "Israel is a critical American ally and a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, not a 'constant sore' as Barack Obama claims," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

"It is truly disappointing that Senator Obama called Israel a 'constant wound,' 'constant sore,' and that it 'infect[s] all of our foreign policy," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Goldberg responds: "Mr. Boehner, I'm sure, is a terribly busy man, with many burdensome responsibilities, so I have to assume that he simply didn't have time to read the entire Obama interview, or even the entire paragraph, or even a single clause. If he had, of course, he would have seen that Obama was clearly calling the Middle East conflict, and not Israel, a sore."

Writes ABC's Jake Tapper: "When Obama twisted Sen. John McCain's "100 Years" comment, it was pretty dishonest as well. But this may be worse, because Boehner et al are falsely accusing Obama of besmirching a nation and a people. They are accusing him of being anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic. It is false."


Is a vice-presidential candidate allowed to tell jokes like this? Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., is about to find out: "I have a wife who genuinely loves to fish," Pawlenty said in a radio interview that's fast making the political rounds. "I mean, she will take the lead and ask me to go out fishing, and joyfully comes here. She loves football, she'll go to hockey games and, I jokingly say, 'Now, if I could only get her to have sex with me.' "

Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., swings back at Bob Novak for the column where Novak said Huckabee had said privately that the country "deserves" Obama. "Total and absolute nonsense!" he tells ABC's Jake Tapper. "I told Bob this last week in a phone call. He went with the story with his 'unnamed source.' Should have been listed as an 'unbrained source.' . . . You guys (in the media) need to remember that I was the one guy who didn't have to take back a thing I ever said about McCain since if anything, I was accused of being TOO supportive of him."

On the Hill:

The best show that doesn't involve Clinton or Obama or furtive meetings between them: "Nine months after Democrats allegedly stole a parliamentary vote in the House, the long-running "Select Committee to Investigate the Voting Irregularities of August 2, 2007" will haul House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer to the witness stand today for what Republicans insist will be the Maryland Democrat's comeuppance," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post.

"Republicans say they will present incontrovertible evidence -- in interviews, transcripts and videotape -- of 'discrepancies' between Hoyer's account of the events of that day and the explanation of the two other primary witnesses: Rep. Michael R. McNulty (D-N.Y.), who wielded the gavel on the disputed vote, and Catlin O'Neill, a staff member who was helping manage the floor for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)."

Et Cetera: Disturbing, disappointing, but not surprising: "For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season," Kevin Merida writes in a Washington Post piece on a subject we'll hear more about.

"Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president."

The Los Angeles Times' Fay Fiore finds out everything you need to know about the candidates through their . . . handwriting? Says handwriting expert Arlyn J. Imberman: "Obama is very much his writing -- fluid, graceful. McCain's is angular and intense; he's a pit bull. And look at the perfectionism in Hillary's -- straight up, precise. She is persistent and is not going to give up until she absolutely has to."

Guess what's on sale at Dulles and National airports? Per ABC's Kate Snow: "A pink t-shirt with an image of Clinton's head and the words 'Madame President 2008: Making History.' A black t-shirt that reads 'Anyone but Hillary' with a drawing of the famous 'scream' painting. The 'Hillary for President' bobblehead.  And oh yes, even the Hillary nutcracker, 'with stainless steel thighs.' All are marked half off."

The Kicker:

"A senator coming back who's run for president is not a very unique one." -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brushing aside suggestions that he'd cede his job to Hillary Clinton.

"I would say, 'No, Hillary.' " -- Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, asked by The Hill whether he would accept a running-mate offer.

"I already have the T-shirt and I'm proud of it." -- Response from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to the same question.

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