From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Did Hillary stay in too long? Given the thud with which Clinton's RFK flub was received, it's starting to become clear that perhaps she erred in deciding to stay in the race this long. Imagine had she suspended her campaign and still won primaries. Wouldn't that have put her in an even stronger position than now? Obama hasn't run a campaign against her for the last few weeks and, in turn, it's helped Clinton prop up her personal standing. But wouldn't she be winning over the support of some in ObamaNation if she were sort of returning the favor by getting out and suspending the campaign? And that's the rub: At some point for her political future, she has to win back the support of Obama's supporters. And they don't seem to be very forgiving of her right now. The Clinton campaign may believe these folks are being irrational, but it's the state of play right now. It's interesting -- Clinton partisans are mad at a lot of folks, but Obama isn't at the top of the list. For Obama partisans, Clinton (or the Clintons) is at the top of their anger list. As for Clinton, she really hasn't given a good reason for staying in (versus suspending her candidacy while keeping her delegates) for any set of voters other than those folks in Michigan and Florida or for the folks in Puerto Rico. If she were in suspension mode, she could be focusing on legacy restoration. Instead, everything she says is viewed through the prism of angling for a longshot 1% chance at the nomination. Whatever the outcome at this point, Clinton's folks may wish they had suspended their candidacy a few weeks ago. In this case, short-term gain could end up being long-term political pain.
*** Go West, young men: In a few months, we may look back at the schedule this week and realize this was the first official week of the general election. Both McCain and Obama are spending time in battleground states this week. McCain was in New Mexico Monday and attends a town hall tomorrow in Nevada. Meanwhile, Obama also was in New Mexico yesterday and hits Nevada today and Colorado tomorrow. We know there have been whispers that McCain and Obama might travel the country together at some point; looks like the way this week is going, that might have already started. Speaking of the West, the Los Angeles Times has a great stat about the three big battlegrounds (CO, NV, and NM): Kerry lost those three states by a combined 127,000+ votes (just a hair more than his Ohio deficit) and the three states are worth a combined 19 electoral votes (one less than Ohio).
*** Pay no attention to this closed-press event... these aren't the 'droids you're looking for: Tonight, President Bush attends a fundraiser for McCain and the RNC in Phoenix. But the event is closed to the press, although McCain and Bush will stand in front of cameras for a photo-op at 9:00 pm ET, well after the nightly newscasts. Then in Utah tomorrow, Bush does two more closed-press fundraisers for McCain -- yet the Arizona senator won't be in attendance for either one. These Bush fundraisers epitomize this fact: As much as McCain wants to separate himself from Bush (because of his 27% approval rating and Democrats eager to link the two together), McCain still needs the president (to help with fundraising and party stalwarts). President Bush -- you can't live with him, you can't live without him…
*** GI John: In his Memorial Day remarks from New Mexico yesterday, McCain addressed the differences he has with the Jim Webb-sponsored GI Bill that passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly. McCain was respectful to Webb while explaining his problem with the measure (it would entice soldiers to leave the military earlier than necessary). It's pretty remarkable that a week later, he's still on the defensive about the bill. Perhaps the scathing New York Times editorial was motivation or perhaps it's grief he could be getting from many veterans groups who are more supportive of Webb's bill than McCain's alternative. But you can say this: No one can accuse McCain of trying to do what's political expedient -- something McCain himself continues to bring up when talking about this bill. McCain could have easily ignored the issue, but he chose to bring it up -- again, setting up what could be more uncomfortable press on this issue if President Bush follows through on his veto threat of the larger bill. By the way, by mentioning Webb in his remarks yesterday, was McCain unintentionally boosting the Virginia Senator's Dem veep standing?
*** Dictating the pace: By the way, in these early days of the general between McCain and Obama, one thing's been clear so far: McCain has controlled the issue debate. Just last night, McCain hit Obama over Iraq, focusing on an issue terrain he'd prefer to fight on rather than the economy. Obama fell into this trap a few times with Clinton during the primaries where it seemed Clinton dictated the issue terrain (think gas tax), even when Obama eventually won that argument with voters. Anyway, McCain offered to travel with Obama to Iraq. It would be an interesting decision if the two did travel together. However, the event would be pure politics, and it also would be a Secret Service and military nightmare. Does anyone in their right mind believe it would be a good idea for the two major nominees to fly into a war zone together?
*** It's bracket time, baby: Today, MSNBC.com debuts the GOP veepstakes tournament. It's similar to the NCAA basketball tournament (or more appropriately, the NCAA baseball tournament, which begins this week: Go Canes and Longhorns... but we digress). We've picked 32 potential running mates and matched them up in a seeded tournament. You get to vote each week on all the match-ups, and the winners will advance each week with the winner being voted on in the first week of June.. To help explain the tournament, NBC's David Gregory and Chuck Todd do their best Dick Vitale and Clark Kellogg impressions and handicap each week's match-ups for your Web-viewing pleasure. Our favorite First Round match-ups: Meg Whitman (6 seed) vs. Kay Bailey Hutchison (3 seed) and Sarah Palin (4 seed) vs. Rob Portman (5 seed). Both Portman and Whitman get veep shout-outs today in David Brooks' column. We'll debut the Dem tournament, well, shortly.
*** The delegate count: Over the Memorial Day weekend, Obama picked up six more superdelegates after state conventions in Georgia, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Alaska; Clinton, meanwhile, got one. Here are the counts: PLEDGED: Obama 1,647, Clinton 1,502; SUPERS: Obama, 315.5, Clinton 282.5; EDWARDS PLEDGED: Obama 12, Clinton 0; TOTAL: Obama 1,974.5, Clinton 1,784.5. Obama is 51.5 delegates away from the needed 2,026. Speaking of the delegate count, don't miss the weekend CW-setting poll in Montana showing Obama with a double-digit lead over Clinton. No new public polling in Puerto Rico or South Dakota just yet, but it appears safe to call Obama the favorite in South Dakota as well and Clinton the favorite in Puerto Rico.
*** On the trail: Clinton is in Montana, stopping in Pablo and Billings; McCain, before his fundraiser with Bush in Arizona, campaigns and raises money in Colorado; and Obama is in Las Vegas, where he has a discussion with working families. Also, Bill Clinton stumps in Puerto Rico.
Countdown to Puerto Rico: 5 days
Countdown to Montana, South Dakota: 7 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 161 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 238 days
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