From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama's delegate drama: It's perhaps only fitting, we guess, that the final two Democratic primary contests today take place exactly five months since this whole process began, on January 3 in frigid Iowa. And five months since that day, here is where we stand: Per NBC's count, Obama is 37 delegates away from clinching the Democratic nomination. But with just 31 pledged delegates at stake in today's two primaries in Montana and South Dakota, Obama will need a slew of superdelegate endorsements to be able to get there tonight. So "No Drama Obama" is violating his unofficial mantra today by, well, trying to create some drama: Will he cross the 2,118 line tonight or not? With the announcement by Jim Clyburn that he's supporting Obama, as well as the endorsements from Michigan's Joyce Lalonde (who only gets a half vote) and Missouri Rep. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, Obama has already picked up 2.5 supers today. Can he get about 20 more before he speaks in St. Paul tonight in order to have the media put him over top to make him the presumptive nominee? We're told if the campaign has the supers we hear they have, they'll roll them out in chunks today -- possibly as many as 18 House members today, a handful of senators, and the trickling of DNC members. In Montana (where 16 delegates are up for grabs), polls open at 9:00 am ET and close at 10:00 pm ET. In South Dakota (15 delegates), they open as early as 8:00 am ET and close as late as 9:00 pm ET. South Dakota is one of those two time-zone states.
*** The end of her campaign -- or the beginning of a new one? Is this the last active day of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president -- but the first day of her campaign for vice president? It could be. There are a lot of mixed signals out there about whether she's staying or going. With some, is this the emotion talking -- the threats of going to the convention and not bowing out anytime soon? Or is this a strategic threat in order to push the veep issue? Nobody who believes he's ready to be leader of the free world likes to be pushed around, so there's a delicate dance Clinton has to do if she truly wants to force her way on the ticket. (And it should be noted that her earlier RFK remark, as well as the Vanity Fair piece on Bill don't help her case -- since that VF article is a vetting road map potentially for Jim Johnson). If Clinton is looking to run in 2012 or beyond, then she probably has to strike a balance tonight. Because as much as Obama needs many of Clinton's supporters (if not all of them) in order to win in November, she's going to need some of Obama's supporters if she's ever going to be the Dem nominee in the future.
*** Bill's exclamation point: Will Bill Clinton be the exclamation point on Hillary's political obit? Potentially. The leaking of the Bill Clinton rant against Vanity Fair reporter Todd Purdum is one for the ages. Clearly, the HuffPo blogger baited Clinton but, well, Clinton couldn't help himself. It's yet another reminder of just how unaware he is of this everyone's-potentially-a-reporter mindset of the blogosphere. He really is a candidate still stuck in the 24/7 mindset of cable TV. He never got accustomed to the reality that everyone has a cell phone or recorder. If Mark Penn is at the top of the list of folks who cost Clinton this primary campaign, Bill Clinton will be listed as a close second. Granted, the media never gave Bill a margin for error. But then again, he was no ordinary spouse.
*** Where we stand: Obama is ahead in pledged delegates per the NBC hard count (1,729 to 1,625), Edwards' pledged delegates (16.5-0), superdelegates (335.5 to 295), total delegates (2,081 to 1,920), the total number of contests won (32 to 21), and the non-Puerto Rico popular vote by 138,931 (17,304,352 to 17,165,421). Two notes: 1) we're not including Texas in this contest count, given that Clinton won the primary but Obama won the caucus and netted the most total Texas delegates, and 2) after Saturday's DNC decision, we're now counting Florida and Michigan as wins for Clinton -- but, per guidance from the DNC, we're including Florida's popular vote but not Michigan's. More on the popular vote… If you count Puerto Rico, Clinton leads by just 2,731 votes (17,428,541 vs. 17,425,810). When you add the Michigan results and don't give Obama "Uncommitted," Clinton's lead increases to 330,882 (17,756,692 vs. 17,425,810). None of our popular vote counts include votes in the Dems Abroad primary, Guam, Virgin Islands, Maine, or Washington State.
*** Welcome back…: Welcome back to primary night, John McCain! Coinciding with the official end of the presidential primary season, the Arizona senator has decided to insert his way back into the story with a prime-time speech from New Orleans. Speaking before either Clinton or Obama speak, McCain's likely to get a significant audience of mostly Dem voters to listen to his case. In particular, based on what he said about her yesterday, pay special attention to the positive things he says about Hillary, her campaign, and her supporters. There's nothing more the GOP wants to do than to continue to drive that wedge between Obama and Clinton supporters. McCain teased this out a bit yesterday by talking about how Clinton had inspired a generation of young women into public service.
*** The GOP shot across the bow: If Democrats want to win in November, how important is it for them 1) come together after this contentious nominating fight and 2) for Obama to get a movie-ending moment tonight? Just check this strategy memo -- entitled "Democrat Disunity" -- that the Republican National Committee will release today. "Following all the uncertainty surrounding Barack Obama's path to becoming the presumptive Democrat nominee, Obama is now faced with two very clear certainties as he 'wheeze[s]', as The New York Times puts it, across the finish line. First, he will inherit a fractured party that is deeply divided over his role as standard-bearer and his ability to be President. Second, he will inherit a national party apparatus that has been significantly outraised throughout the cycle," the memo says, per advance excerpts given to First Read. "Obama is not wearing well as a candidate and has lost momentum since his high point in February… Since March 4, he has lost a majority of primaries to Senator Clinton… He lost Kentucky by 35 points, West Virginia by 41 points, and suffered a 36-point defeat in Puerto Rico. Were it not for the Democratic proportional system of delegate allocation, these devastating defeats might very well have derailed his nomination."
*** Down the ballot: In addition to the presidential primaries in Montana and South Dakota, there are a slew of downballot primaries today. Indeed, while just 31 Democratic presidential delegates are at stake today, approximately 20% of the entire House will see nominees picked in seven states: Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. There are two marquee contests. The first is in New Jersey, where incumbent Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) receives a primary challenge from Rep. Rob Andrews (D). Lautenberg is favored, but one of the issues in the contest has been his age; he's 84 and Andrews is 50. (Is this a possible preview of McCain vs. Obama?) "Sen. Lautenberg, thank you for serving our country in the Second World War," Andrews said of the senator at a recent debate. By the way, if Andrews loses, he apparently already has a way to get himself back on the ballot for his House seat. Only in New Jersey, eh?
*** Pearce vs. Wilson: The other notable primary takes place in New Mexico, where Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson duke it out for the GOP nod to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici in the fall. The winner will face Tom Udall (D), and the race will be one of the top Democratic pick-up opportunities. The Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy says that Pearce might hold a slight advantage in the polls, but that Wilson has routinely been tested in tough races. "I'm not going to be shocked if either of them wins." By the way, the ENTIRE New Mexico House delegation is going to be replaced this year since all three House members are running for the open Senate seat. Finally, watch the primary challenge to Iowa Dem Rep. Leonard Boswell (it could be closer than folks think) and then the GOP ideological war in California's 4th District as it is a microcosm of the GOP's brand problem nationally. We could go on... and we will... at another time.
*** On the trail: Tonight… Clinton is in New York City attending what her campaign is billing as "celebration"; Obama speaks in St. Paul, MN from the very venue where the Republicans will hold their convention in September; and McCain gives a big speech from Louisiana that frames the general election.
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 154 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 231 days
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