Starting Gate: Fully Vetted?

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
For a candidate looking to land a knockout blow the past couple days haven't been what Barack Obama needed. As he and his aides complain that Hillary Clinton's campaign is throwing their promised "kitchen sink" litany of attacks however, it isn't all the doing of the candidate on the ropes.

While he should have been making a final push in Texas, where a win tonight could potentially seal the nomination, Obama instead found himself on the defensive, answering a barrage of questions about his relationship with an indicted Chicago developer and his campaign's openness.

Obama's past relationship with Tony Rezko, a former supporter whose federal corruption trial began yesterday, has been examined on and off for the past year but the candidate found himself being peppered with more questions at a press availability yesterday. While he pointed out the reams of stories that had been written about the topic and the mountains of questions he says he's answered, Obama was asked more. And with the trial just getting under way, he'll almost certainly face more in the days and weeks to come.

More troubling for Obama has been the manner in which the campaign dealt with what the Clinton campaign yesterday tried to brand "NAFTA-Gate." When a Canadian television station reported that an Obama advisor had given a sort of wink to a consulate from the north in regards to the candidate's tough talk on the trade deal, the campaign initially said it was completely false. Then it was acknowledged that an advisor did meet with the consulate but the reported content of the conversation was inaccurate. Then they said the advisor met in a capacity unrelated to the campaign.

The Canadian Embassy in Washington apologized for the fact that a key memo about the meeting had been made public and insisted that it is not the case that Obama has said one thing about trade while campaigning in Ohio and another behind closed doors. But it was the sight of this supposedly transparent and transformational campaign behaving so traditionally political that may linger from the episode. Deny, revise and extend is not changing politics as we know it.

The press has been accused in some quarters of taking it easy on the rising political phenom but you wouldn't know it from events yesterday when, for perhaps the first time, Obama was caught in the middle of what had the makings of a full-fledged feeding frenzy. No doubt it's partly a result of the Clinton campaign's increasing attacks but it's also part of the process of vetting the front-runner.

What Will Mike Do? Mike Huckabee says he's not going to bow out of the race until John McCain reached that magic delegate number of 1,191. That could happen tonight. The latest CBS News delegate estimate has McCain with 950 delegates with 256 at stake tonight. So McCain has a chance to wrap it up tonight but it could be close. And then, there's the matter of which media count Huckabee decides to follow as his guide. At any rate, he signaled yesterday that he's fairly confident the race will last at least one more week when Mississippi votes. "We plan to stay in the race until somebody has clinched the nomination, with 1,191 confirmed delegates," Huckabee told reporters in Texas. "That hasn't happened yet. And I'm not sure it will happen tomorrow so our plan is to move forward."

It's About Judgment -- Or Laughs? Hillary Clinton appeared on "The Daily Show" last night … just a couple days after making a surprise stop on the set of "Saturday Night Live" and on the eve of today's primaries in four states. "This election is about judgment," host Job Stewart noted when kicking off his interview with her. "Yet tomorrow is perhaps one of the most important days of your life and you've chosen to spend the night before talking to me. Senator, as a host I'm delighted. As a citizen, I'm frightened." Clinton agreed saying, "It is pretty pathetic."

Around The Track

  • According to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, 67 percent of Democrats say Clinton should stay in the race even if she loses in Ohio or Texas.
  • "I am a celebrity and that doesn't make me qualified to tell you what you should do. But I'll tell you what I am qualified to tell you, I've had a friend for 30 years. I walked through life with her, I've watched her be a mother, I've watched her be a daughter, I've watched her be a wife. Let me tell you, to the women here, she does girlfriend really, really well." – Actress and longtime Clinton friend Mary Steenburgen, stumping for Clinton in Texas yesterday.
  • You've heard about dream candidates before but this campaign is producing dreams about the candidates, according to the Top of the Ticket.
  • Weather watch. According to the Columbus Dispatch, it's expected to be a stormy day in Ohio in more ways than one: "Snow and ice are forecast in the north. Heavy rain is expected in the south, where a flood watch has been issued."