From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** ObamaNation's power: Curious of what the bitterness and anger could look like if Obama is somehow denied the Democratic nomination? Check out the reaction from the ObamaNation over Wednesday's debate. To put it simply, ABC was under siege yesterday. This may only be a taste of how the ObamaNation would react to a Clinton nomination. If MoveOn is motivated to do a petition campaign against the media over a debate, imagine what Clinton delegates and undecided superdelegates would face this summer if there is doubt. And as the Politico's Ben Smith pointed out yesterday, it's also what the GOP would face in the general election, especially if Obama is nominee. The level of devotion among Obama's supporters rivals what Bush had with his flock in 2004. The left-wing blogosphere is MUCH more powerful than what you see on the right this cycle and it reminds us of the advantage Bush had in '04. While we all know about that so-called right-wing voice machine, don't forget that there is now a left-wing noise machine (on the internet) as well. And it has found its voice.
*** More Philly phallout: The biggest post-debate issue Obama may have to deal with is this "weak" perception that's growing about his answers. Yesterday, he tried to sound tougher: He had the shoulder gesture and tried to power up his rhetoric. But Clinton surrogates and the RNC both jumped on the weak argument, noting if he couldn't handle 45 minutes of uncomfortable questions, how will he handle bad days during the presidency? It's one thing to be labeled "inexperienced"; it's another to be "weak and inexperienced." Meanwhile, in perhaps today's biggest story, the New York Times writes that Democratic superdelegates haven't been swayed by the debate or Obama's recent gaffes. "Despite [Clinton] giving it her best shot in what might have been their final debate, interviews on Thursday with a cross-section of these superdelegates — members of Congress, elected officials and party leaders — showed that none had been persuaded much by her attacks on Mr. Obama's strength as a potential Democratic nominee, his recent gaffes and his relationships with his former pastor and with a onetime member of the Weather Underground."
*** The soft sell: We also shouldn't ignore the attempt by Clinton to go soft again. She flirted with softness early in the debate -- and then decided to take advantage of negative openings against Obama. Now, yesterday, in the closing days of the PA primary (and with evidence of rising negatives), she brought her mom back on the trail for the first time in three months. Clearly, she's got an image issue (particularly with Obama supporters where her negatives are growing fast and may actually be making her look more unpopular than she will be as the eventual Dem nominee). The problem for Clinton, though, is that while her campaign stops may be softer, her current ad campaign in Pennsylvania is fairly negative. Then again, if her supporters aren't punishing her for the negative campaign, she should hold up ok in the primary. But if the various polls are to be believed, her numbers are slipping a tad. Could it be the negative campaign is driving some folks to undecided who will eventually decide simply not to vote?
*** Enter Tax Man: While the release of Clinton's and Obama's tax returns have sparked interest, controversy, and a game of one-upsmanship between the campaigns, McCain's own taxes haven't received the same level of scrutiny. Well, today he finally releases those taxes at 11:00 am ET. One thing that they will likely show is that the McCains are much wealthier than the Clintons and the Obamas, due to Cindy McCain's beer fortune. But it's old money and it appears to be money that wasn't earned due to fame in public life. One thing to watch for: Will the taxes be for just 2007 or will they go back farther? But the real records that reporters are looking for aren't the taxes; rather, it's his medical records.
*** Appalachia, here we come: Speaking of McCain, he goes on his Appalachia trip preview next week. It's the type of pre-Dem nominee tour that makes a lot of sense. His earlier Bio Tour seemed slapped together at the last minute and never really worked out the way the campaign hoped. Next week seems like a message-specific tour that could work very well for him politically. It takes him through some potentially important states, including Ohio. Again, the longer the Democratic nomination fight goes on, the more opportunity McCain has to strengthen his own base and begin to court swing and Dem terrain.
*** It's time to make a decision: And given all the time McCain has, is that why Dean has now changed his tune on when the Dem race needs to end? Or was Wednesday's debate the catalyst? Dean told CNN yesterday that undecided superdelegates need to start making up their minds -- now. "We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time," he said. "We've got to know who our nominee is." Just what is the definition of "start making up their minds"? Is Dean hoping for a bunch of public decisions by May 7? Sure sounds like it.
*** The delegate count: Clinton leads Obama by 24 superdelegates, 259-235. Obama picked up two more supers yesterday -- Reggie Whitten (OK) and Harry Thomas (DC). But as we continue to audit our lists, we have also taken one away from Obama (Frank Montanaro-RI) and added him to Clinton. We have also added another RI superdelegate to Clinton's column, Grace Diaz, who we inadvertently missed. In the overall count now, Obama leads by 140 (1,651-1,511). He has a 164 pledged-delegate lead (1,416-1,252).
*** On the trail: Clinton campaigns in Radnor, PA before heading to North Carolina, where she has a conversation with Maya Angelou at Wake Forest University; McCain has already attended the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast; and Obama spends his day in Pennsylvania, where he visits Erie and Williamsport and has a rally in Philadelphia. Also, Bill Clinton is in Pennsylvania and Michelle Obama is in Indiana.
Countdown to Pennsylvania: 4 days
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 200 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 277 days
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