Penn Makes Case For Clinton, But Path To Nomination Narrow

Mark Penn, chief strategist to the Hillary Clinton campaign, today released a memo arguing that we are now seeing a "shift to Hillary."

"There are some pretty big changes happening out there with the voters," Penn writes, arguing that Obama's lead nationally with Democrats is "evaporating." His evidence? Tracking polls, one of which shows Clinton leading Obama and another which shows Obama leading with a smaller margin than he once did.

Penn also makes an electablility argument for Clinton – one that could appeal to the superdelegates who could decide the Democratic nomination.

"The more that the voters learn about Barack Obama, the more his ability to beat John McCain is declining compared to Hillary," Penn writes. "For a long time we have explained that poll numbers for a candidate who has not yet been vetted or tested are not firm numbers, and we are beginning to see that clearly." He argues that Clinton is a stronger candidate than Obama both nationally and in key swing states in a general election match-up.

Despite the positive outlook Penn offers on the polling front, however, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney takes to the front page today to explain how the path to the nomination for Clinton is getting narrower almost by the minute.

"Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton needs three breaks to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Senator Barack Obama in the view of her advisers," he writes. Those breaks? A strong win in Pennsylvania, an eventual lead in the popular vote, and "some development to shake confidence in Mr. Obama so that superdelegates...who are free to decide which candidate to support overturn his lead among the pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses."

As Nagourney points out, because Michigan and Florida now seem unlikely to redo their primaries, it will be difficult for Clinton to take the popular vote lead. (It's worth noting, however, that the true popular vote total is almost impossible to know, since votes are often not measured accurately in caucus states.)

The uproar over Obama's relationship with spiritual adviser Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. could provide Clinton an opening – Politico reports that the GOP, at least, sees the Wright issue as a good one to use against Obama.

But the New York senator faces an uphill battle, especially as it will be difficult for her campaign to argue that the popular vote totals from the original Florida and Michigan contests should count. The candidates didn't campaign in the Sunshine State, and Obama's name wasn't even on the Michigan ballot.

As Democratic consultant Tad Devine told Nagourney: "Obama is in the advantageous position."