From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** All about North Carolina? So which May 6 state is more important to Clinton -- Indiana or North Carolina? Sure, many in the media (and in the Clinton campaign) are pointing to Indiana, because the race is likely to be very close. But isn't North Carolina the opportunity for Clinton to either prove or disprove momentum? The state isn't just a pothole for Clinton in her comeback bid, it's a potential sinkhole. It's a big state, not some small red state. And the gains Clinton made in the popular vote, thanks to Pennsylvania, could be wiped away completely in the Tar Heel State. And because the popular vote is now the most important measuring stick to the Clinton campaign, they have to figure out a way to either pull the upset or make the Obama victory margin so close that it will serve as a wakeup call to the superdelegates. It's been said a bunch of times, but we'll say it again: Obama can't seem to convince Clinton to get out until he beats her in a place that demographically favors her, and she can't convince superdelegates that he's really unelectable unless she beats him in a place that demographically favors him. And since the burden still remains with Clinton to catch up, it may mean North Carolina is actually more make-or-break than Indiana.
*** I've got friends in high places: After 45 contests, this pattern has emerged in the Clinton-Obama race: The person who has received the best political endorsements in a state has ended up winning that contest. Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter were HUGE for Clinton in Pennsylvania, especially in keeping down Obama's margins in Philly. So was Ted Strickland for Clinton in Ohio. Meanwhile, Obama got big help from Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Tim Kaine in Virginia. There are a few exceptions, of course -- Clinton lost Maryland (where she had the support from Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski), and Obama lost Massachusetts (Ted Kennedy and Deval Patrick) and Arizona (Janet Napolitano). But that's about it. What does this tell us for the upcoming May 6 contests? It looks like Clinton might have the advantage with supporters like Evan Bayh and former Gov. Joe Kernan, as well as the chairman of the state party. And Obama seems to have the clear advantage in North Carolina, where almost every notable state politico who has endorsed is backing him.
*** In search of a validator: Speaking of endorsements, it seems that Clinton is in need of a endorsement from a top Democrat as evidence that the tide -- as she and her campaign are arguing -- is really turning. She needs the equivalent of what Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy clan did for Obama after South Carolina. Who's potentially out there? Al Gore. John Edwards. Nancy Pelosi. Jim Webb. Even someone like Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer or Elizabeth Edwards. Murtha was a good get for Clinton a few weeks ago, and now she needs someone else to jump aboard the Clinton Express to suggest to superdelegates and the press that the momentum is on her side. For now, the only "progress" Clinton's made with her recent success is simply slowing the superdelegate trickle to Obama's side. She needs to show the public and the supers that others actually believe she can win -- not just survive until the end of the primary calendar.
*** That front-loaded calendar: Here's a thought that hasn't gotten much play, but might be the single biggest reason why Obama has clinched yet: The frontloading gave Clinton an early safety net. How much better would Obama have performed in many of those Super Tuesday states had the contests been held later? Writes the LA Times' Skelton: "Californians can be thankful the state held its presidential primary on the earliest day legally possible. And Hillary Rodham Clinton should be especially grateful. Clinton probably wouldn't even be in the race today if California had not rescued her candidacy way back on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, by delivering a timely victory that helped keep her afloat. The Pennsylvania primary Tuesday likely would have been irrelevant." This is a moot point now -- the calendar is the calendar. But it's a reminder of just how important Feb. 5 was to Clinton and how damaging it was to her when she couldn't clinch it by then. For now, this is simply something for historians to ponder.
*** A Big Easy? McCain's tour today takes him to New Orleans, where he will make a stop in the Ninth Ward and hold a media avail there. Afterwards, he holds a town hall in the city and then heads to Baton Rouge, where he will raise money and attend a business banquet. As much as Iraq has hurt President Bush's poll numbers and the GOP's brand, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath broke their backs and helped contribute the Democrats' midterm election sweep. Can McCain's visit there begin to repair the political damage? Meanwhile, the Louisiana Democratic Party will be holding a news conference in New Orleans, where they will argue that McCain voted against measures to boost reconstruction aid and also remind reporters that McCain endorser John Hagee said that Katrina was God's punishment to New Orleans sinners.
*** Numbers, numbers, numbers: Obama picked up two superdelegates to Clinton's one yesterday, bringing Clinton's advantage to 263-239. A new addition: the uncommitteds. There are 293 superdelegates still to be had (230 of those are named; there are 63 vacancies/add-ons.) Obama leads by 133 delegates overall: 1,729-1,596. He also leads by 157 in the pledged count: 1,490-1,333. The Pennsylvania pledged count (as of 6:15 pm Wednesday) was Clinton 82-73, with three delegates still to be allocated.
*** On the trail: Elsewhere, Clinton campaigns in North Carolina, hitting Jacksonville, Fayetteville, and Asheville; Obama is down in Chicago; and Chelsea Clinton stumps in Indiana.
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 194 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 271 days
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