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First thoughts: All the Wright moves

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** All the Wright moves? Yesterday, Clinton delegate hunter Harold Ickes admitted to Talking Points Memo that he was bringing up the Rev. Wright story in his conversations with Democratic superdelegates. While that news is certain to displease Obama supporters, it would be naïve for anyone to think the Clinton camp WASN'T going to push this story to influence undecided superdelegates -- just like it would be naïve to think the Obama camp isn't whispering to them about the possible baggage Bill Clinton would bring to a general election. The risk for Ickes and the Clinton campaign is that Dem superdelegates aren't your typical swing voters -- they're more liberal and progressive than your average Democrat -- and playing the Wright card with them could backfire. Then again, with Clinton trailing Obama and with superdelegates incrementally moving in Obama's direction, the Clinton camp has to play this card, right? And let's not be naïve ourselves: It's possible the superdelegates themselves are bringing this up. They are junkies and they are probably curious about the polling.

VIDEO: NBC Deputy Political Director Mark Murray offers his first read on the tightening race in the Keystone State as the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary nears and Ronald Reagan's sudden participation.

*** The narrowing Keystone race: Are expectations slowly starting to shift in Pennsylvania now that Obama has spent significant time in the state? A new Quinnipiac poll today has Clinton leading Obama in Pennsylvania by nine points, 50%-41%. That's down from her 12-point lead (53%-41%) a couple of weeks ago. The poll also shows both Clinton and Obama leading McCain in possible general election match-ups in the Keystone State (Clinton is ahead of him, 48%-40%, while Obama leads him, 43%-39%). The survey also has Clinton leading McCain by two points in Florida and nine points in Ohio, while Obama leads McCain by one point in Ohio and trails him by nine in Florida. The Sunshine State is starting to look less and less like an Obama target state. Of course, while Clinton may be stronger in Florida, she's consistently weaker than him in the Midwest and West, signaling that the two will have two different paths to 270.  

*** Some guys have all the luck: On Monday, Mississippi certified the results from its March 11 primary, and it turned out that Obama picked up an additional delegate from the contest, which gives him a 1,416-1,252 pledged lead over Clinton per NBC's count. Indeed, it seems that every time there is some sort of recalculation, Obama picks up delegates -- whether it's by luck (in Mississippi) or by simply outworking the Clinton campaign (Iowa's county conventions). And then Clinton has lost superdelegates when Eliot Spitzer resigned or when Rep. Tom Lantos passed away. Delegate by delegate, the gravity of the race appears to be pulling in Obama's direction. Of course, there are exceptions, the most recent being the announcement by Obama superdelegate Al Wynn that he'll retire from Congress in June. That brings our superdelegate total to Clinton 255, Obama 221. So the overall count is Obama 1,637, Clinton 1,507. On the delegate front, this weekend there are conventions in North Dakota and Washington, where more delegates could switch. Also watch Ohio's certification, which could move another delegate in the 1st Congressional District.

*** Dean's legacy: The New York Times is the latest news organization to examine why DNC chairman Howard Dean isn't taking a more active role to resolve his party's nomination fight. The stories haven't been that flattering, and taken together, they seem to be writing what COULD be a disastrous legacy for the former governor and onetime presidential candidate, if the Democrats end up losing in November. The Times piece, in fact, left out the most embarrassing part of Dean's stint as DNC chair: his paltry fundraising. But the criticism that the outsider Dean has received has always tended to come from Democratic insiders in Washington. Also, ask yourself this: If Dean aggressively intervenes in the nomination fight, wouldn't that undermine his neutrality, possibly angering either the Clinton or Obama camps? And if he went out of his way to lend a helping hand to Florida and Michigan -- which broke the rules and resisted earlier DNC compromises -- wouldn't it make it impossible for the Democrats to have control over the nominating calendar in future contests? One other thing about Dean's legacy: He has skins on the wall (the 2006 midterms) that some of his predecessors can't point to.

*** Anger from the Right: McCain is leading both Clinton and Obama in general election match-ups, according to some recent national polls. His appeal with independents gives his party a chance to expand its base. And his military background and longtime service in the Senate gives him a clear contrast against both Clinton and Obama. But that still doesn't satisfy some establishment conservative leaders. Here's what James Dobson tells the Wall Street Journal: "I have seen no evidence that Sen. McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold. To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away. To my knowledge, he has not reached out to pro-family leaders or changed any of the positions that have troubled them." In fact, it seems the Wall Street Journal opens up every wound in the McCain-GOP world -- with another piece on McCain's fundraising woes.

*** McCain's tour, Day 3: Speaking of McCain, he gives a speech this morning at another alma mater of his, the Naval Academy in Annapolis. His campaign says that the candidate "will talk about his journey from a young man who arrived at the Naval Academy more focused on breaking rank than rising through the ranks, to a man who had in him … a love of country and a commitment to serving her ingrained in his heart for life."

*** On the trail: Clinton campaigns in Pittsburgh and then flies to San Francisco to raise money; Obama, also in Pennsylvania, addresses the state AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia; Bill Clinton stumps in Indiana; and Michelle Obama speaks at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

*** Let's play some Hardball: And don't miss Obama on the Hardball College Tour with Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 5:00 pm ET and 7:00 pm ET.

Countdown to Pennsylvania: 20 days
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 34 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 216 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 293 days
 
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