Starting Gate: The Snowball Effect

Do bad things happen in threes? Hillary Clinton's campaign must be hoping that's the case after several days of bad news that will do little to reassure anyone that she can beat the already longs odds of winning the Democratic nomination. A review:

Mark Penn stepped down yesterday as the chief strategist for the campaign after it was learned that he had met with representatives to Columbia to discuss the promotion of a free trade agreement which Clinton opposes. Penn will remain the chief campaign pollster. The episode goes directly to the heart of one of Barack Obama's chief arguments in the campaign – that Clinton is unable to affect real change because she is too close to Washington interests. And it could potentially undermine one of her remaining strengths – her appeal to blue-collar and lower-income workers, many of whom blame such trade agreements for lost jobs.

Clinton was also caught up over the weekend in another possible "Bosnia" exaggeration. On the campaign trail, Clinton sometimes tells a story about a woman from Ohio who, she says, died while giving birth because she was denied treatment and could not afford the cost of insurance. The New York Times reports that the hospital has refuted that claim, saying that the woman was actually insured and under the care of doctors. The flap comes after Clinton's claims of visiting Bosnia under "sniper fire" were debunked and threatens to reinforce the image of her as a candidate who plays fast and loose with the facts.

Finally, the Clintons released their tax returns after months of media requests and nudging by her campaign opponents. Unsurprisingly, those returns show that it's not unprofitable to be a former First Couple. The Clintons have made over $109 million since leaving office in 2000, mostly from book advances and speaking fees by the former president. But the figures could might some of those blue-collar workers in places like Pennsylvania and Indiana think about her ability to sympathize with their plight.

For a candidate facing must-wins in upcoming primary contests, and time growing short, it wasn't a good-news kind of a weekend for Clinton. She needs to win Pennsylvania handily in two weeks and hope that kicks off some momentum heading into Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th. It's a tough task made all the harder when the campaign has to weather weekends like this.

Kicking Off Iraq Week: John McCain continues to keep finding ways to push into the news coverage and he's certain to be a big part of this week's storyline as the debate over Iraq hits full steam in Congress. All three candidates are expected to play staring roles when Gen. David Petraeus gives his assessment of the war before Senate panels this week. And the differences on the issue between the two Democrats and the Republican will be clear. McCain will kick off the discussion this morning with a speech to the VFW national headquarters in Kansas City. Here's a peek at his speech, according to prepared remarks:

"The question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. ... There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course. ... I do not believe that anyone should make promises as a candidate for President that they cannot keep if elected. To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership."

This IS a Campaign After All: DNC Chair Howard Dean dismissed the big hubbub from last week over reports that Hillary and Bill Clinton have been whispering to superdelegates and telling them that Obama can't win in a general election. Appearing on Face the Nation, Dean indicated that it isn't unusual for candidates to assert such things during a campaign.

"Both campaigns argue that," Dean said. "I mean, that's what you do in a presidential campaign, is you argue that you're the best candidate because you can win and because you have a better policy on this or that. … I'm not deeply offended that somebody argues that the other side can't win. I've been through one of these races. If that's the worst that gets said in this campaign, then I think we're in very good shape. Because somebody is going to win, and I think our candidate is most likely going to win the presidency of the United States because people are fed up and they do not want a third term for George W. Bush, which is essentially what the policies of John McCain are offering us."

Around The Track

  • John McCain says if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is angling for the number two spot on his ticket, it's news to him. Responding to speculation that Rice has been actively pursuing the slot, McCain said, "I missed those signals." McCain went on to say, "I think she's a great American, I think there's very little that I can say that isn't anything but the utmost praise for a great American citizen, who served as a role model to so many millions of people in this country and around the world."
  • States with upcoming contests continue to see a huge surge in voter registration activity, according to an analysis by USA Today. In Pennsylvania alone, some 106,000 voters have switched their registration to Democratic and the party registered 66,000 new voters.
  • Clinton is slated to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres today where she will discuss her proposal to provide $300 million per year to increased funding of breast cancer research and will set a goal to find a cure for the disease within 10 years, according to the AP.
  • Many superdelegates might be driven to make a decision based on their own political fortunes rather than their thoughts on the candidates themselves, the Los Angeles Times reminds us.