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First thoughts: Does Wright go away?

 From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Is today the day Wright goes away? Maybe -- at least in the context of the Obama-Clinton campaign. As we speculated yesterday, if there was a silver lining to Wright dominating the news, it was that voters were easily able to distinguish between the two men. Reviews of Wright's performance at the National Press Club were absolutely brutal. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley wrote, "Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention… Wright doesn't hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice." If yesterday was the end of the Wright story, then the next week may actually be something the Obama camp looks forward to. Bob Herbert perhaps put Obama's last six weeks the best: "Obama seems more and more like someone buffeted by events, rather than in charge of them." And that's something that he has to change soon if he hopes to change the subject in time to put Clinton away on May 6. Also, Obama began a stronger pushback on Wright late last night, per NBC's Andrea Mitchell: "My opponents realize they don't have the better argument so what they're now saying is 'Well, I don't know about Obama. You know, we, we gotta, we gotta know more about him and you know, he doesn't wear a flag pin. His former pastor said something and he's, he's got uh, we don't know what his values are. We don't know if he's patriotic. He's got a funny name, you know, it sounds, sounds Muslim.' That, that's what's dominated. That is what has dominated political coverage over the last several weeks." 

*** The downballot effect: Republicans are certainly linking Obama to Democrats running in two upcoming special congressional elections. In Mississippi, Greg Davis (R) is running an ad using Jeremiah Wright against Travis Childers (D). And in Louisiana, Freedom's Watch is airing an ad whacking Don Cazayoux (D) by tying him to Obama's health-care agenda. As our friends at Hotline noted yesterday, these Democrats have been unable to easily swat away these attacks. "Both Dems have succeeded so far by avoiding the liberal tag, and in many cases, the Dem label. But in an interview on XM radio 4/26, Childers avoided discussing the WH race like the plague. In Cazayoux's response ad to GOP attacks, he also ignored the WH contest. Both answers seemed greatly lacking." But Democrats -- who are thrilled to be playing in these two contests, especially the one in Mississippi -- believe that attacks on Obama could help turn out the sizable African-American populations in both districts. Still, the GOP using Obama in downballot races presents this dilemma to Democrats: Until Obama (or Clinton) wraps up the nomination, it's hard for the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC to whack back at these kind of attacks on their downballot candidates. And this is why it seems Obama can't beat back these attacks; He's getting hit on three or four fronts, and there are no third-party groups who can help back him up because these groups aren't ready to pick between Clinton and Obama just yet.

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd talks about the aftermath of yesterday's Wright speech, the debate over a Summer gas-tax holiday, and the continued fight for superdelegates.

*** Pump it up: If it hadn't been for Wright's appearance yesterday, there would have been a substantive policy debate over an issue that would have received a ton of coverage. The issue? A gas-tax holiday. The matter actually has interesting alliances. McCain and Clinton favor a temporary halt to the 18.4-cent federal gas tax (although Clinton calls for a tax on oil company profits to pay for it), while Obama and the White House oppose it. A gas-tax holiday might be good politics -- pander bears anyone? -- but it's viewed by some as lousy policy. In fact, the New York Times confirms Obama's argument that such a holiday would save consumers no more than $30, about a half of tank of gas. But pander politics can trump intellectual arguments in the short term.

*** Electability watch: Lots of new information for superdelegates to weigh today: A new AP/Ipsos poll has Clinton doing MUCH better against McCain than Obama does; another poll has Obama beating McCain in Wisconsin, but Clinton losing to the Arizona Republican; elected superdelegates, per the Wall Street Journal, see Obama as being the better candidate for Dem downballot candidates; but NRCC chair Tom Cole adds his two cents: "I think [Obama's] the weaker candidate." What do all of these things tell us? Doesn't look like much has changed, at least for now.

*** McCain's house call: Last week it was poverty; this week it's health care. For a candidate who has been hit with being a one-trick pony (Iraq and national security), McCain is doing what he can to make sure folks realize he'll have a robust domestic agenda. Beginning yesterday, he has launched a week-long focus on health care this week. His plan, not surprisingly is reliant on the free market, which he hopes will drive down the cost of health care by slowly moving folks away from having to rely on employers for health care. The Washington Post identifies a $5,000 tax credit as the centerpiece of McCain's proposal, which would be used for individuals to search out the best insurance for their needs. McCain will also borrow a page from Mike Huckabee and talk about prevention and nutrition. McCain backs up his launch with a statewide TV buy in Iowa focused on health care. Meanwhile, the SEIU begins a $1 million TV ad campaign in Ohio hitting McCain for his lack of attention on rising health-care costs. The ad features Bush and McCain hugging and even shows Bush kissing McCain (a visual we bet we'll see again and again and again). There will be a similar ad set to run in DC and West Virginia, but the Ohio buy is a big one and dwarfs, for instance, any anti-McCain spot the DNC has aired to date.

*** Slow ride, take it Easley: In Raleigh, NC this morning, Clinton received one of her biggest endorsements in the last couple of months -- from North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley -- who comes from one of the upcoming pivotal states: North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. Per NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann, Easley was long suspected of being in the Clinton camp, but many believed that he would stay neutral. One key to Clinton's past victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania were the huge endorsements from the governors in those states. Easley's endorsement comes just one week before the state's primary, so Clinton might not be able to tap into his political network/machine the way she did with Strickland's and Rendell's. But Easley's help, no matter how late, certainly doesn't hurt. That said, while Easley is retiring after this year, Obama has endorsements from North Carolina's two gubernatorial candidates. What does that tell us about the makeup of the primary electorate?

*** Crunching the numbers: While Clinton picked up a superdelegate with Easley's endorsement, Obama yesterday got his own from New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Here are the counts: SUPERDELEGATES: Clinton 265-242 (288 uncommitted); PLEDGED: Obama 1,490-1,334; OVERALL: Obama 1,733-1,599.

*** On the trail: After her event in Raleigh, NC, Clinton makes six stops in the Hoosier State -- Indianapolis, Gary, Hobart, Evansville, Princeton, and South Bend; McCain, still in Florida, speaks at a cancer research center at the University of South Florida in Tampa and then raises money in Tampa and Bonita Springs; and Obama holds town halls in Winston-Salem and Hickory, NC. Also, Bill Clinton stumps for his wife in North Carolina.

Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 7 days
Countdown to West Virginia: 14 days
Countdown to Kentucky and Oregon: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 189 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 266 days
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