Starting Gate: Around The Track

  • Of the several storylines to keep an eye on over this St. Patrick's Day weekend, none are more sensitive or sure to generate more discussion than the renewed focus on Barack Obama's pastor. Yesterday, stories about and video clips of sermons delivered by Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ (he retired recently) made the rounds on blogs and news sites and spurred plenty of discussion about Obama's relationship with him.

    Obama has described Wright as "an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," and has repudiated some of the comments. But Wright's suggestions that America's past in part invited 9/11, among other comments, are certain to draw attention, especially given the past relationship between the two men. Wright has been described as Obama's "spiritual mentor." He married Obama and his wife, Michelle and baptized their two children. And Wright has been credited by Obama for inspiring the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

    Campaign spokesman Bill Burton told Fox News Obama "does not think of the pastor of his church in political terms. Like a member of his family, there are things he says with which Senator Obama deeply disagrees."

    It's the latest in the "gotcha" game that has caught up previously unknown advisers like Samantha Powell (who left the Obama campaign after calling Hillary Clinton a "monster") and well-known figures like Geraldine Ferraro (who disassociated herself from the Clinton campaign after saying that Obama is succeeding because he's black). As columnist Charles Krauthammer asks in the Washington Post this morning, "if there are no policy issues between them and the personality differences have been whittled down, what's left? Identity. Race, age and gender. Is this campaign about anything else?"

  • Is Michigan getting closer to a re-vote and Florida further away? The AP reports that Michigan Democrats are nearing an agreement with the campaigns for a do-over primary that would reportedly be paid for by the state party.

    Florida Democrats are far less optimistic. After unveiling a proposal for a combination mail-in and in-person primary, the state's Democratic chairwoman allowed that it was unlikely to happen. Florida's congressional delegation opposes the plan. Clinton has called for the delegates to be awarded based on the results of the January vote, something that is obviously unacceptable to the Obama campaign, which would be happy if nothing further were to happen that might lead to a reduced delegate lead.

    As Florida Rep. Robert Wexler noted, "There's a high demand by one candidate [for a re-vote] and a low demand by the other, and somewhere in between is a resolution," Wexler said. "So that's what we're trying to figure out."

  • When it rains, it pours. On Saturday, Republicans lost the special election for the seat of retiring Rep. and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Today comes news that the former treasurer for the National Republican Congressional Committee may have embezzled as much as $1 million dollars in recent years. Yesterday, the committee discussed details of what the Washington Post describes as a scheme that "could become one of the largest political frauds in recent history."

    More from the Post: "The magnitude of the alleged fraud staggered Republicans, who are bracing for the final accounting from the forensic audit in six to eight weeks." For a party already being out-raised by Democrats and facing a tough environment in both House and Senate races in the fall, it's not what Republicans need at the moment.

  • Mitt Romney said this week he would be "honored" to be asked onto the ticket with John McCain in a performance that seemed to be an audition for the job. Mike Huckabee, who outlasted Romney by several weeks in the race, is more coy. "I'm not one that has any illusions that he [McCain] has some obligation to me," Huckabee told reporters before he delivered a lecture to a private college in Missouri. "It's his decision to make. I'm going to support whomever he picks."
  • In case you were wondering who won the Texas caucuses, the answer is – we still don't know. The count continues after the state party was overwhelmed with the turnout and we may not know the final results for weeks yet. Time has an overview of the process and problems.
  • Obama and Clinton have accepted an invitation to meet for a debate hosted by ABC in Pennsylvania on April 19th. Obama has agreed to participate in a CBS News debate three days later in North Carolina. Clinton has not yet accepted that invitation.
  • Question of the day: With so much attention on the electability arguments in the Democratic Party and what states each candidate could put into play for the fall, what states would McCain bring into play that Democrats have won in recent elections? Can McCain make Democrats sweat in Pennsylvania? How about California, can the westerner finally make it competitive in a presidential race again? Let us know in comments what you think.