Discuss as:

First thoughts: Wright here, right now

From Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro
 *** Wright here, right now: There's nothing that bothers some inside the Clinton campaign more than the constant reading in between the lines of the senator's motivations when she chooses to answer a specific question. But this has been a constant issue for Clinton ever since she decided to follow in her husband's footsteps. For the first time, Clinton decided to weigh in on the Wright controversy, saying he would not have been her pastor. But for more than a week, Clinton had declined to address it and was even complimentary of Obama's speech on race last week. She certainly had ample opportunity to be critical on this issue, so why now? In the shadow of the Bosnia sniper "misstatement," (her newest iteration is that she was "sleep deprived") this certainly seems like an attempt to change the subject and take the spotlight off her. After all, whenever there has been a heavy focus on one of these candidates, the other has benefited. This week, so far, the spotlight has been on Clinton. If you missed all three evening newscasts, it's clear Clinton had one of the worst earned media days in a few months. By the way, why did the campaign decide to sit down with Richard Mellon Scaife's newspaper ed board? We know that Bill Clinton and Scaife broke bread and apparently called a truce, but wow.
*** Nothing's changed; no one's voted and yet...: What's with all this, it's time for Clinton to drop out talk? Clinton, for the first time herself, acknowledged the chatter in a very newsy press avail yesterday. The campaign is in full pushback mode on this very issue as they seem to worry that the whispers of party elders and undecided SuperDelegates is actually getting loud. The campaign released a "myth-fact" white paper addressing what they claim is the false idea that they have no mathematical chance. And Bill Clinton made the focus of his Kentucky stumping pushing back on this idea HRC is done. As we noted yesterday, she does have a mathematical chance, but her chances rest largely on the shoulders of these undecided SuperDelegates, some of whom are talking to the press about their own handwringing. But for those calling for Clinton to get out, ask yourself, why? She does have a chance. Sure it's somewhat of a longshot, but it's not so improbable that the Obama campaign is ignoring her in the same way McCain ignored Huckabee. And remember their own personal experience. Bill Clinton, for instance, knows firsthand had one of the major Democratic candidates in '92 (say Tsongas or Kerrey) decided to stay in for the long haul, that candidate just might have stolen the nomination away from Clinton when he was limping to the nomination in April and May struggling to dispatch semi-gadfly Jerry Brown. As the Maryland (or is it Virginia lottery) ad campaign used to say, "you can't win if you don't play."

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd talks about Hillary Clinton's decision to weigh in on the Wright controversy and continued calls for her to get out of the race for the sake of the Democratic Party.
*** 'Hell to Pay': There seems to be a want by the Democratic Party to establish a critical mass and get this over with. See Maria Cantwell, Phil Bredesen and Harry Reid. Cantwell yesterday implied the winner of the pledged delegates would have the strongest claim to the nomination when the primaries are finished. Meanwhile, check out Bredesen's "hell to pay" comment and Reid tersely saying the nomination WILL be wrapped up before convention.
*** While you were gone: Obama's back on the trail (in 5/6 North Carolina), but how will he choose to get back in the game? It looks like by picking a fight with McCain. Per the campaign, Obama in his speech today on the economy "will focus on Senator McCain's speech on the housing crisis that offered no new ideas and no relief for Americans facing foreclosure," Obama's campaign spokesman Bill Burton writes. "Senator Obama will make clear that Americans can't afford four more years of Bush economics that lets Wall Street thrive as Main Street struggles." Obviously, this is a renewed attempt by the campaign to jump-start the inevitability memo of a McCain-Obama general. Let's see if the McCain campaign bites on this one.
*** The tax man cometh: After two days of the Clinton campaign criticizing Obama in conference calls for not releasing tax returns prior to 2006 (even though his campaign had been criticizing Clinton on transparency, for not releasing even her 2007 tax returns -- something Obama had done), the Obama campaign released all of Obama's back to 2000. And made them available on the Web. Camp Clinton has said the Clintons would release theirs very soon, perhaps in a week or so. Among the things the press grabbed on to with Obama's tax returns: the jump in charitable contributions (including money he gave to Rev. Wright's church) and the sharp rise in income for Michelle Obama as Barack rose through the ranks. Beyond that, though, no major landmines appear to be in these returns. Though we do wonder why the campaign didn't release tax returns going back to his first year in elective office ('96). It's a small opening the Obama folks have given to the Clinton campaign to harp on. 
*** The real Dream Ticket? Reports NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann, Mike Gravel said in a statement, "Today, I am announcing my plan to join the Libertarian Party, because the Democratic Party no longer represents my vision for our great country." Is the real '08 Dream Ticket some version of Paul-Gravel?
*** Coming later today: A special NBC/WSJ poll on race and the fallout in the pres. race following the Rev. Wright controversy and Obama's historic speech on race relations.
*** On The Trail: Clinton participates in an event in DC with her daughter Chelsea; McCain holds two more fundraisers in California and speaks to the LA World Affairs Council; Obama's back from vacation with a town hall in Greensboro, NC; and Bill Clinton makes three stops in West Virginia, a May 13 primary state where Clinton is favored.
Countdown to Pennsylvania: 27 days
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 41 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 223 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 300 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails. 
Text FIRST to 622639 to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.