The Note: Clinton still standing but finds offense

April 10, 2008 12:25:06 PM PDT
The front door closed to her, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to tiptoe around the back of the house to break through as her party's nominee. (At this moment, as even Clinton supporters acknowledge, she's probably too much of a plodder to make it.) But really, she can't do it if she's quiet. Subtlety won't work as she seeks to convince superdelegates that only she -- not Sen. Barack Obama -- can win this fall. She needs to take loud steps (as if Bill Clinton and Terry McAuliffe were capable of moving around in silence).

Yes, the broad cause has a narrow path. (And Colin Powell isn't helping.)

Yet among the key points that must not be forgotten: The superdelegates have the power to end this race right now. They aren't.

Just maybe Camp Clinton has gotten control of this spiral the campaign has found itself in -- and Elton John doesn't hurt. Wednesday's night's concert raised $2.5 million helping refill near-bare coffers (remember that you can't buy TV ads on credit) and setting a defiant tone for a stretch where exhausted aides and supporters need all the hope they can get.

"You did not come in vain," the former president said. "She can win the nomination." Said Sir Elton: "I never cease to be amazed by the misogynistic attitude of some people in this country. . . . I say, to hell with them."(As Newsday's Glenn Thrush points out, the message dovetails nicely with Sen. Clinton's view of the "double standard.")

Said Sen. Clinton: "What I want you to know is, I'm still standing."

Indeed she is, and her Olympic critique gives her a fresh message opening -- and is forcing Obama to take a stance on a tough issue (and there's still daylight between him and Clinton). "If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the President should boycott the opening ceremonies," Obama said Wednesday in a statement, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

She's hoping a pushback ad on radio (yes, money really is that tight) taking on Obama over energy policy gets her must desperately needed traction. "What's clear from the ads is that despite the change in her strategy team, Clinton is not prepared just yet to go quietly into that good night,"'s Chris Cillizza writes.

And Clinton's best surrogate is a member of her family -- just not the family member we all assumed it would be. "In light of a string of setbacks for her mother's campaign, including impolitic remarks by her father, Chelsea is arguably the most seamless part of the struggling Clinton operation," The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut writes, pointing out that Chelsea's next stop will be her 100th campaign event.

"The once and perhaps future first daughter is branching out in ways that the Clinton campaign -- which practically had to beg the candidate to allow her to appear in Iowa late last year -- never imagined."

(Chelsea has nearly 1,600 Facebook friends as of Thursday morning -- but how many of them can ask her a question?)

Pennsylvania is clearly Clinton's must-win state -- but the fact that Obama is expending so much time and money there means that if she does win (and does so convincingly), it will mean something. Obama needs not to peak too soon.

"Hillary Clinton's camp complained Wednesday that Barack Obama was trying to buy the Pennsylvania Democratic primary with an extensive television advertising campaign, saying his rising popularity with the state's voters was partly the result of misleading ads," Christi Parsons and Mark Silva write in the Chicago Tribune.

Said Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson: "He is doing everything he can to win in Pennsylvania. . . . And if he doesn't win, it will be a significant defeat for him."

"Hillary Clinton knows she can only win the Democratic presidential nomination by finding a way to fight on through the party's August convention in Denver," Mark Halperin of Time and ABC News writes. "For now, she is battling one day at a time, trying to have enough success at the ballot box and in the media wars to keep her supporters on board and limit calls for her to quit."

But now that the White House and congressional leaders are in a full-on trade war, look out for the collateral damage.

With House leaders' move to shelve the agreement (a vote is set for Thursday), "both sides [are] using trade as a surrogate for an election-year battle over jobs, national security and the sinking economy," The New York Times' Steven R. Weisman reports. "In the background was a rich brew of presidential politics."

Among the joys of having three sitting senators running for president is that actions on the Hill matter a great deal to the race for the White House: "Democrats signaled their determination to escalate their power struggle in Mr. Bush's final months in office," Greg Hitt and John D. McKinnon write in The Wall Street Journal.

"Democrats are eager to cast the White House and congressional Republicans as out of touch on the economy. White House officials in turn note that Democrats have accomplished little so far that would help on the specific problem areas, notably the housing sector."

The danger here for Clinton is not just about the Colombia trade deal that's now the object of such acrimony between the executive and legislative branches.

The real problem in the current dust-up over trade is that -- by highlighting former President Bill Clinton's support for the Colombia deal -- it opens up a messy bag of potential conflicts of interest.

Know that Clinton wanted to talk about the Iraq war Wednesday in Pennsylvania: "Economic issues intruded, however, with Clinton denying in a news conference that there was conflict in her campaign because she opposes expanded trade with Colombia, in contrast to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her former chief strategist," Thomas Fitzgerald writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The union battle is raging in Pennsylvania. "As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vie for voters in Pennsylvania's presidential primary, another rivalry is playing out between two of the state's largest unions," Bloomberg's Kim Chipman writes. Clinton's AFSCME and Obama's SEIU are in a showdown "more bitter than the contest between Clinton and Obama."

Don't look now -- but could Obama be building a solid, stable lead? (Who wants to bet this changes by weekend?) Per the Gallup release, "For the third consecutive day, Barack Obama holds a significant advantage over Hillary Clinton in national Democratic preferences for the Democratic presidential nomination, now 51% to 41%."

Throw this into the mix -- how big would this endorsement be? "I'm looking at all three candidates," former secretary of state Colin Powell told ABC's Diane Sawyer, in an interview broadcast Thursday on "Good Morning America." "I know them all very, very well. I consider myself a friend of each and every one of them. And I have not decided who I will vote for yet."

And yet -- only one candidate got Powell's effusive praise. He talked up Obama's management of his campaign -- and for how he managed the Wright affair: "I think that Sen. Obama handled the issue well," he told Sawyer. "He didn't look the other way. He didn't wait for the, for the, you know, for the storm to go over. He went on television, and I thought, gave a very, very thoughtful, direct speech. And he didn't abandon the minister who brought him closer to his faith."

And this on whether Sen. John McCain's plan for a sustained troop presence in Iraq is realistic: "I'll tell you what they're all going to face -- whichever one of them becomes president on Jan. 21 of 2009 -- they will face a military force, a United States military force, that cannot sustain, continue to sustain, 140,000 people deployed in Iraq, and the 20 [to] 25,000 people we have deployed in Afghanistan, and our other deployments."

That may get Powell off of McCain's short list. And this may get McCain off of Powell's short list: "Republican Sen. John McCain refused Wednesday to rule out a pre-emptive war against another country, although he said one would be very unlikely," the AP's Libby Quaid reports.

Some possible back-story (none of which Powell is happy about), in The New York Times: "One component of the fractious Republican Party foreign policy establishment -- the so-called pragmatists, some of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake -- is expressing concern that Mr. McCain might be coming under increased influence from a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President Bush's first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war," the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter report.

"One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that Mr. McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate," Bumiller and Rohter write.

McCain makes news Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y., (hardly a regular stop on the GOP circuit) with his new plan for homeowners, including a restructured mortgage plan.

And, perhaps more significantly, there's this, per advance excerpts of his speech: "I am also calling for an immediate DOJ task force to aggressively investigate potential criminal wrongdoing in the mortgage lending and securitization industry. If there were individuals or firms that defrauded innocent homeowners or forged loan application documents, then the punishments of the market are not enough, and they must answer for their conduct in a court of law."

McCain hits "The View" Thursday morning, and has another important political stop on tap: He's set to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., in Brooklyn, Maggie Haberman reports in the New York Post.

"It's all part of a larger casting call by Bloomberg, and McCain isn't the only leading player to show up," David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News.

And McCain does not want to be Bob Dole: "John McCain said Wednesday that he plans to retain his seat in the Senate while running for president, but also said he will think about whether or not it makes more sense to resign," ABC's Bret Hovell reports.

Said McCain: "There's people regularly who ask me to resign, but that has nothing to do with my presidential ambitions."

If McCain is having campaign money troubles, someone forgot to tell the RNC. The national party is set to report a cash-on-hand figure of more than $31 million as of the end of March, an RNC official tells The Note. (The spotlight will be on Howard Dean's DNC, which reported less than $5 million in the bank at the end of February, when March numbers are released later this month.)

If Democrats are having 527 money troubles, someone forgot to tell David Brock. Politico's Ben Smith: "Wealthy Democrats are preparing a four-month, $40 million media campaign centered on attacks on Senator John McCain. And it will be led by David Brock, the former investigative reporter who first gained fame in the 1990s as a right-wing, anti-Clinton journalist."

On the money front, The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Michael Luo do the potential Obama hypocrisy story: "Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are beginning to lay the groundwork for divergent ways of financing fall campaigns for the presidency," they write. "Advisers to Mr. Obama said a decision about public financing would not be made until resolution of his Democratic primary fight against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has not said whether she would take part in the system."

President Bush on Thursday plans to announce his support for Gen. David Petraeus' Iraq recommendations, and will "announce today that he will cut Army combat tours in Iraq from 15 months to 12 months, returning rotations to where they were before last year's troop buildup in an effort to alleviate the tremendous stress on the military," Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman report in The Washington Post.

This is how he ties it together, per The Weekly Standard's William Kristol: "Our troops want to win in Iraq, and we can see that desire in the gains in recruiting and retention since the surge began. And the surest way to depress morale and weaken the force would be to lose in Iraq."

You may recognize that voice -- if not that hair. Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., fills in for a recuperating Paul Harvey on Thursday's show. The rest of the story: Romney then he makes his debut as a McCain surrogate Thursday night, with a 7 pm ET speech before the Lancaster County (Pa.) Republican Party.

"It will be interesting to see who else gets a similar invitation to be an official McCain surrogate -- for example, Mike Huckabee, the darling of religious conservative voters, who McCain will need to tap into," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times.

Clinton Thursday night delivers the keynote speech at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Pittsburgh. Obama did not accept the committee's invitation, and he spends his day on a bus tour in Indiana, where Bill Clinton will also campaign Thursday.

Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Good news out of North Carolina for Obama: "More than four times as many blacks have registered to vote in North Carolina during the first few months of 2008 as four years ago, a sign that bodes well for Sen. Barack Obama in the state's May 6 Democratic presidential primary," the AP's Mike Baker writes. "There has also been a boom in voter registrations overall across age, race, gender and party affiliation, according to the North Carolina state board of elections."

The lay of the (changing) Pennsylvania land: "Slowly but surely, Pennsylvania is tilting southeastward," Paul Nussbaum writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "As the population shrinks in western Pennsylvania and grows in eastern Pennsylvania, the politically pivotal state is becoming more suburban, more Democratic, more eastern. It is becoming more like New Jersey and less like Ohio."

The St. Petersburg Times' Adam Smith checks in on the status of Florida. "Why Obama won't [agree to have the votes count] -- because it could cost him the nomination -- underscores how volatile the marathon Democratic race remains and how resolving Florida's Democratic delegate debacle remains a major challenge," Smith writes. "And it's not just Obama. Clinton, by many accounts, could be better off leaving Florida unresolved than agreeing to any compromise."

The Boston Globe's Scott Helman writes up the new most powerful force in politics: "the 'small donor' phenomenon that has reshaped the political landscape this election cycle, as hundreds of thousands of voters -- many of them newcomers to politics -- invest themselves in the presidential campaign like never before. Lured in part by e-mails that seem to come from the candidates themselves, low-dollar donors develop relationships with the campaigns, compelling them to give more and more money."

Time's Amanda Ripley offers a lengthy profile of Obama's late mother: "Obama's mother was a dreamer. She made risky bets that paid off only some of the time, choices that her children had to live with. She fell in love -- twice -- with fellow students from distant countries she knew nothing about. Both marriages failed, and she leaned on her parents and friends to help raise her two children."

Said Obama: "My choosing to put down roots in Chicago and marry a woman who is very rooted in one place probably indicates a desire for stability that maybe I was missing." (Nothing says stability like a presidential campaign.)

There's something new at Obama events these days, the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick notices. "A greater emphasis on prayer and added patriotism at Obama events started in Indiana on the mid-March weekend when a controversy over statements made by his longtime Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, first gained widespread attention," he writes. "There is clearly a pattern of added emphasis on Christianity and patriotism for Obama -- at least in conservative-leaning places like Indiana and North Carolina -- in the wake of the Wright controversy. Such overt religious displays had been relatively rare in the first 13 months of Obama's presidential bid."

New video of Wright's successor, Otis Moss III -- posted by the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody on Thursday -- has Moss comparing being black to biblical stories of leprosy.

Maybe this headache hasn't been cured for the Obama campaign: "Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, the Barack Obama delegate who got in trouble for calling her neighbor's kids 'monkeys,' still plans to go to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer to cast her vote for Obama," Abdon M. Pallasch writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The Carpentersville village trustee reportedly had agreed to step aside Monday night to spare the campaign any bad press."

Condoleezza Rice speaks to More magazine. On Obama: "He's really a very appealing and interesting person. And very smart. I'm happy I can say that I really think at this point in our country's history, this [election] will come down to whether people think Senator Obama represents their views and their interests and holds their values [rather than focusing on his race]."

On running for office: "That's really hard for me to imagine. I have been around politics now a lot. I have to say I'm really enjoying not being a part of a campaign in 2008. . . . I've said all along what I'm going to do. You can all come and visit me in California [at Stanford University]."

In a matchup of two "media darlings," who has the edge? That's the question posed by GOP strategist Todd Domke: "Torn between two lovers, who will the media favor?" Domke writes in his Boston Globe column. Domke very scientifically gives Obama a 59-41 bias edge -- "that's good for a Republican."

Jennifer Rubin of the American Spectator covers the media blowback against the ways Obama has misconstrued McCain's "100 years" remark. "He has doubled down again and again to repeat his lie. What this tells us is the candidate who is all about 'change' is more likely a sly huckster who believes he can con the public and the media alike," Rubin writes. "If he persists after being revealed as lying, it must be, reasonable people might conclude, because he thinks he can get away with it."

Not the friends Obama needs: Obama has "left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Their belief is not drawn from Obama's speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed."

(Don't worry, says Obama: "Nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have," he said Wednesday night. Writes ABC's Jake Tapper: "Really? No one? Elie Wiesel? Simon Wiesenthal? Alan Dershowitz? No one? Wow.")

Not the enemies Obama needs: When the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News left a half-page blank to protest the fact that Obama wouldn't grant an interview, "It was an attention-grabbing move that positioned a floodlight on gripes that had been festering for months in the gay press: Obama won't make time for local gay publications," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports.

The AP's Walter Mears on the battles over campaign surrogates: "Richard Nixon would have been proud. The campaign surrogate system his people set up 40 years ago has evolved into a factory for political hatchet work, name-calling that marks -- and mars -- this year's contest for the Democratic presidential nomination."

Obama, McCain, and Clinton are not famous enough? Not for "American Idol": Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain made taped appeals for charity on a special edition of 'American Idol' on Wednesday night that didn't make the cut," Alessandra Stanley writes in The New York Times. "The telethon for needy children around the world entitled 'Idol Gives Back' drew the likes of Fergie, Bono, Brad Pitt, Mariah Carey and Miley Cyrus, and went too long. The candidates' contributions were kicked back to Thursday night's episode."

The kicker:

"I know it's a school night. When I was in college I was in bed at 10 pm every night. I'd never be up this late. I'm just kidding you guys. I'm just kidding. Sometime I'd wake up about this time." -- Barack Obama, still not as cool as he wants to be, speaking at a high school in South Bend, Ind., at 10:45 pm Wednesday.

"They were being totally arrogant. And I think I know something about arrogance." Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., on the White House's stance on trade.

"Nice try." -- Bill Clinton, refusing to say whether he regrets taking money to push on behalf of free trade with Colombia.

"When they asked if Ed Rendell's endorsement had any impact, I said, 'absolutely.' " -- Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., called by a pollster at his home.