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First thoughts: A bad week for everyone

From Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
*** A bad week for everyone: While it may be hard to compare weeks during this campaign, we imagine there haven't been many that have been this bad for all three campaigns. It was an odd war of attrition, a contest of who had the LESS bad week. For McCain, it was his Shiite-Sunni gaffe, which allowed Democrats to have a field day criticizing his understanding of Iraq, as well as his commander-in-chief credentials. For Clinton, it was the failure to have re-votes in Florida and Michigan, which makes her path toward winning the Democratic much, much more difficult. But hands down, no one had a tougher week than Obama. Just look at the post-Rev. Wright/pre-race speech poll numbers that are still circulating; it's what makes the Clinton and McCain folks think their week went better than Obama's did. That said, two developments that occurred last night -- the news that Bill Richardson is endorsing Obama and the breach of his passport records -- have changed the subject, at least in the short term. But we do have this question for the Obama campaign: Why did it leak that photo of Wright with Bill Clinton? Doesn't that just give cable networks another excuse to run the video of Wright? How does that turn the page? It was an odd decision to say the least.

*** Richardson's endorsement: When John Edwards made an appearance on Leno last night, we were bracing ourselves for a possible endorsement. We just didn't know it would be coming from Bill Richardson, who will formally throw his support behind Obama at a campaign event today in Portland, OR. The endorsement isn't too much of a surprise -- Richardson had been hinting his support for Obama for a while. Still, it's significant for two reasons: 1) Richardson becomes the second Dem presidential contender to endorse Obama, while none has backed Clinton (Biden and Edwards are still neutral); and 2) Richardson specifically cited Obama's speech on race as a reason for getting off the fence. "He asked us to rise above our racially divided past, and to seize the opportunity to carry forward the work of many patriots of all races, who struggled and died to bring us together," he said in a letter to his supporters. "As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words." The Obama camp, though, has to be a bit disappointed the endorsement didn't come before Texas. In fact, of the remaining contests, Puerto Rico is the only one left with a significant Hispanic population. Expect some bitterness from Clinton land on this one, in particular because many of them believe that without Bill Clinton appointing Richardson to two Cabinet posts, he wouldn't have had the experience that makes him a viable veep candidate. Of course, Richardson's endorsement means another superdelegate for Obama, raising his overall delegate total (pledged and supers) to 1,626 vs. 1,506 for Clinton.

VIDEO: NBC's Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama, and continuing talk of race in the presidential campaign. 

*** Breach: While the Richardson endorsement is certainly good news for the Obama campaign, it might actually get more of a political payoff from the news that three contract workers at the State Department had accessed his passport records. The reason? It allows the Obama camp to bash the Bush Administration and galvanize Democratic voters, who might think -- even if it's not true -- that the Administration is engaged in dirty tricks. "Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement last night. "This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama's passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach." Déjà vu '92. It's likely a few idiotic rogue wannabe political consultants, but who knows what an investigation will turn up.

*** The downballot omission: Yesterday, Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn released a memo seizing on recent poll numbers showing Clinton's improved standing versus Obama. He wrote, "Ultimately, this Democratic nominating process is meant to select the candidate who will: a) be the best president – the best commander-in-chief, steward of the economy, and exercise leadership; b) defeat John McCain; and c) promote and defend core Democratic principles such as universal health care. On all three fronts, Hillary is the best choice for the Democratic Party." But he left out this consideration: Who would be the best leader for the party when considering downballot races? As we've pointed out before, what has been good for the Clintons (winning two presidential elections), hasn't always been good for the party (which lost control of Congress, state legislatures, and governorships while Clinton was president). Can Clinton's campaign make the pitch to superdelegates that the party would benefit as a whole from a Clinton restoration? Remember, these superdelegates aren't going to worry about who will be the best president. Many of them will be thinking: Who will be the best nominee to keep me in power?

*** McCain's money woes? FEC reports are in for all three presidential candidates, and there are a few headlines. First, the presidential field combined has raised just short of $800 million since last year. That's a stunning figure; the remaining three candidates will pass a $1 billion BEFORE the conventions. Two, McCain raise slightly less money in February than he did in January. That's not a good sign. He can't afford to be raising $11-15 million a month; he needs to get that monthly average above $20 million, at a minimum. No doubt, the McCain folks expect to be outspent by their eventual Dem opponent, as both Obama and Clinton are raising money at an amazing clip. But McCain needs to keep the ratio to less than 2-to-1, and $11-15 million a month doesn't cut it.

*** Typical clumsiness? Obama's defense of his grandmother racial issues by calling her a "typical white person" has many folks up in arms, who rightly claim that if either Clinton or McCain had said the phrase "typical black person" in a similar, there would be a full-fledged media firestorm. Of course, had Obama said this pre-Rev. Wright, would anyone have cared? It shows where this campaign is right now and why Obama's walking a tightrope. Every word he says on race is being scrutinized. This was an odd thing to say and offensive to a number of folks. No doubt we'll hear an apology from Obama. He obviously didn't mean for how it came across but, well, words matter.

*** On the trail: Clinton is down in New York; McCain remains in England and then heads to France; and Obama campaigns all day in Oregon, visiting Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene. Also, Bill Clinton stumps in North Carolina.

Countdown to Pennsylvania: 32 days
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 228 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 305 days

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