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Starting Gate: After The Fall

"Democrats Look To Life After Clinton." That's the headline greeting readers of the Wall Street Journal this morning and for the Clinton campaign it's one of the kinder ones peppering newspapers nationwide as the end-game begins in earnest.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign insist the race goes on in spite of the nearly insurmountable odds against her winning the nomination. Here are a few things to watch over the next days, weeks and months:

  • As much pressure as the Clinton camp is under right now, Barack Obama's campaign and supporters have plenty of new issues facing them as well, not the least of which is how to deal with an opponent who's almost certainly defeated but remains in the race. As exit polling in recent contests has shown, supporters of each candidate have become increasingly hardened in their support. But Clinton supporters are more likely to say they would be dissatisfied or to vote for John McCain in the general election if she is not the nominee.

    Facing the prospect of bringing the party together after a protracted and passionate campaign, Obama's camp doesn't want to do anything that makes it look like they're bullying her out of the race. But, as Democratic strategist Joe Trippi pointed out to, there's likely to be little tolerance for Clinton should she continue pressing a direct attack on Obama. Trippi agreed that Clinton would get some breathing room to press forward with the campaign as long as she remained positive. Look for little, if any, of the kind of dialogue we've seen in recent months.

  • Clinton yesterday insisted that the party disputes in Michigan and Florida are a matter of civil rights and indicated she wanted to see those settled before any end of the race is arrived at. The DNC rules committee is slated to begin taking that process up at a meeting – but not until May 31. That stretches the race out further than many in the party would like and we're already seeing a new proposal from Michigan to settle the matter. Nothing will be written in stone until Democrats arrive in Denver this summer but can they get this matter settled enough to allow this race to end?
  • John McCain has certainly gotten quite a honeymoon since he more or less wrapped up the GOP nomination on Super Tuesday but Obama is unlikely to get much time to rest before Republicans begin in on him. His campaign will need to pivot very quickly toward the general election campaign – both in terms of message and organization – while at the same time reuniting the party. At times, Obama's campaign has been caught flat in responding to what Clinton threw at him and that's nothing compared to what some of those 527 organizations can do.
  • Can Obama re-introduce himself to voters after the unprecedented level of attention paid to him in the campaign? Does he even need to? The answers to those questions could be a critical part of the message. In traditional campaigns, candidates generally turn toward the center but this is no traditional campaign and "change" remains a good mantra heading into the general election. But the worrisome signs of his inability to attract blue-collar voters in Midwest battleground states could grow if he remains identified with the chardonnay crowd.
  • Nobody has yet to really wrap their minds around the almost incomprehensible amount of money raised and spent in the Democratic campaign. Obama and Clinton together have raised over half a billion dollars and there's no reason to think Obama can't raise twice as much in the months to come. Democrats are poised to have an unprecedented money advantage over Republicans in November and one of the questions for McCain is whether he can raise enough even to keep above water. His fundraising has improved dramatically since he became the presumptive nominee but there is a lot of GOP money remaining on the sidelines. Will it come in at all this cycle?