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First thoughts: Dumping Wright

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Dumping Wright: A day ago, we asked if yesterday would be the day Jeremiah Wright would go away, at least in the context of the Obama-Clinton primary race. Well, not quite. Obama made sure the story would last one more day by holding a press conference in which he unequivocally denounced Wright. That denunciation -- just like his speech on race more than a month ago -- has received universal praise. It made him look strong, and it might have even helped him a bit if he wins the nomination (after all, denouncing him now is MUCH better than doing so in October). But the criticisms still to be leveled against Obama are twofold: 1) it was late and 2) he did this only after Wright personally attacked him; Obama didn't get angry over the OTHER things Wright said, but only when Wright made it personal. One thing still hanging in the air: will Wright respond; he did a sort-of response through a blind quote in the New York Post but considering how upset black church leaders seem to be with Wright, he may end up keeping quiet. Clearly, superdelegates were the most important audience yesterday. They may be relieved Obama finally showed an ability to deal with a baggage crisis head-on, but they still will want to know if Wright will continue to dog him. Obama's back was against the wall and he delievered. But like every other time, it feels a little late, the question is, was it TOO late.

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd discusses Obama's fallout with his former pastor. 

*** The odd good news for Obama: The Wright Story Volume 2, which began on Thursday when PBS released excerpts of the reverend's interview with Bill Moyers, has now lasted six days -- which, by the way, is the same amount of time between now and Tuesday's elections in Indiana and North Carolina. And unlike right before the past contests in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, it is Clinton -- not Obama -- who seems to have all the momentum. The perception is that Obama is bleeding. But this COULD be a good thing for Obama, relatively speaking, of course. Clinton won the expectations game in those past three contests, primarily because it seemed like Obama had all the Mo'. But now that Mo' is on Clinton's side. What happens if Obama is still able to defeat Clinton by double digits in North Carolina and essentially split the delegates in Indiana? Of course, the bigger question for his campaign might be: What if he doesn't? And what if those exit poll cross-tabs in North Carolina and Indiana show white voters abandoning Obama in greater numbers than in Ohio and Pennsylvania?

*** Hillary, working 9 to 5: Per NBC's Ron Allen, Clinton begins her day today with an interesting "event." A typical Indiana resident -- Jason Allen Wilfing, who has worked at Deluxe Sheet Metal for 15 years -- will just happen to stop by the hotel where Clinton is staying, and she will join him on his typical commute to work. And what's more, they will have to stop for gas. (The tank just happens to be running dry while Clinton's along for the ride.) Clinton will then help Wilfing pump gas. And then he will complete the typical trip to work. Of course, we all wonder when was the last time Clinton drove a car? Or pumped gas? Or even, after that $109 million, had to worry about the cost of gas? Politicians do all kinds of things to attract votes, but this has the potential to be memorable. Indeed.

*** Pander alert: The Clinton gas event is yet another sign that Clinton is trying to harken back to the '90s and hammer home the "I feel your pain" aspect of the Clinton years that voters responded to so well back then. But the debate over the gas-tax holiday is an interesting one -- and it's a test of just how closely voters are following the campaign. Will voters respond simply on the pocketbook front and demand this gas tax holiday, despite all the downsides that many experts have outlined about the idea? It's the old "if it feels good, do it" (that Clinton and McCain have seen succeed for so long during times that pocketbook politics have dominated the debate) versus the intellectual argument Obama is trying to have (that usually is praised by, well, intellectuals but dismissed by rank-and-file voters who want their tax cut or gas prices cut). Clinton is trying to own this issue big time -- even running TV ads about it and constantly criticizing Obama for not supporting the gas-tax holiday.Obama's criticism of McCain's plan and Clinton's are accurate. The only problem is it leaves voters saying, "Ok, it's a gimmick; so what's your proposal? This feels like Clinton v. Tsongas '92. But the electorate acts as if its more informed than it was 16 years ago, and also could be a bit more distrustful of government handouts than in the past. Regardless, one could argue that the Clinton-Obama debate over this issue sums up their candidacies and potential presidencies. In this environment, which do voters prefer?

*** How low can you go; how high can you fly? Yesterday, we released some early numbers from the latest NBC/WSJ poll, which comes out tonight. The numbers? Only 21% approve of President Bush's job in handling the economy -- his lowest number ever as president on that question. Also, a whopping 81% believe the US is currently in a recession. Interested in the latest numbers in the Obama-Clinton race? Want to know how both stack up against McCain? Or curious about which party -- Democratic or Republican -- holds the advantage heading into November? And want to know which relationship is worse: Bush or Wright? Tune into Nightly News, or click onto MSNBC.com, at 6:30 pm ET.

*** One more plug: Obama will be on Meet the Press for the full hour this Sunday. Tim Russert will travel to Indianapolis to sit down with the Democratic front-runner for the live interview, taking place on the even of what could be the most significant primaries of the campaign season. Set your TiVOs now if for some reason you haven't yet clicked "season pass" for Meet the Press.

*** Closer to the magic number: Obama picked up another superdelegate just this morning, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA), who was a strong supporter of Edwards. Yesterday, Obama picked up two more superdelegates: Kentucky congressman Ben Chandler and Iowa DNC member Richard Machacek. Clinton also picked up one: Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton. Skelton cited Clinton's "support in rural America" as a reason for backing her. Since the Pennsylvania primary, Obama has gotten eight superdelegates to Clinton's four. Here's where the counts stand: SUPERDELEGATES: Clinton 266-245; PLEDGED: Obama 1,490-1,334; OVERALL: Obama 1,735-1,600.

*** On the trail: Clinton spends her day in Indiana, stumping in South Bend, Portage, Lafayette, and Kokomo; McCain raises money in Florida and then holds another health-care event in Allentown, PA; and Obama, in Indiana, has events in Indianapolis and then holds a rally at Indiana University in Bloomington. Also, Bill Clinton has a whopping seven events in North Carolina, and Michelle Obama is in Indiana.

Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 6 days
Countdown to West Virginia: 13 days
Countdown to Kentucky and Oregon: 20 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 188 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 265 days
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