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Starting Gate: "Wheezing" At The End

A weekend of drama at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee and another blowout win for Hillary Clinton in the Puerto Rico primary puts the race right back where it has been for some weeks now – all but over.

No game changers this weekend as the political world awaits the start of the final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana – and the flood of superdelegate endorsements expected to flow Barack Obama's way soon afterwards. Just 50 delegates short of the 2,118 now needed to lay claim to the nomination, Obama is just inches away from the prize.

But for all the excitement about this election and the way it has energized the process, it isn't exactly winding down with a bang for the front-runner. The New York Times yesterday noted that Obama is, in many ways, "wheezing across the finish line." The paper notes Obama has won just 6 of the 13 contests held since March 4th and has gained about half a million fewer votes than Clinton over that time period. After Puerto Rico, it's 6 out of 14 and a larger popular vote difference.

Sure, those states included West Virginia and Kentucky, but also Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Despite outspending Clinton heavily in that time period, he's suffered some pretty big losses. If John McCain were losing primaries to Mike Huckabee by 40 points after effectively wrapping up the nomination, his campaign would likely be on life support.

Despite the tough talk from Harold Ickes at Saturday's DNC meeting, few expect that Clinton will carry her challenge on Michigan to the credentials committee this summer or her campaign to the convention itself. There is no appetite within the party for that, as evidenced by comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week. And, with the primaries ended, it will be harder for those still-undecided superdelegates to find reasons not to endorse.

But Clinton has made her argument crystal clear over recent weeks that she believes herself to be the strongest candidate for the fall election. And Obama's resignation from his church after months of controversy about his relationship to it was certainly a reminder that Obama in many ways remains an untested – and unknown – candidate. More evidence of that came from CBS News' poll in Puerto Rico where a full 34 percent of voters there said they didn't know enough about the candidate to have an opinion of him.

Clinton's insistence of the superiority of her candidacy, combined with her to-the-end campaign puts her in a position to pick up the pieces if the bottom should drop out of Obama's campaign before the convention and stand by his side as the nominee at the same time. She doesn't need to fight to the convention to remain relevant.

Around The Track

  • John McCain addresses AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, this morning in Washington where he's expected to call for tougher sanctions against Iran and hit Obama over Mideast affairs.
  • "I do not believe that is happening. … It's not -- you know, I'm not aware of it." – Hillary Clinton, responding in a Washington Post interview to reports that her husband is pushing Obama to pick her as his running mate.
  • The Politico reports some of Clinton's advance staffers are getting word that their role in the campaign is ending: "The advance staffers -- most of them now in Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Montana -- are being given the options of going to New York for a final day Tuesday, or going home, the aides said. The move is a sign that the campaign is beginning to shed -- at least -- some of its staff."
  • The Los Angeles Times reports that some Clinton supporters are signaling they would part ways with the campaign if it chooses to fight on to the convention.
  • Clinton's campaign reacted angrily to a Vanity Fair article exploring the questionable associations Bill Clinton has kept since leaving the White House. The campaign calls the article "a tawdry, anonymous quote-filled attack piece."
  • Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, mentioned as a potential running mate for McCain, is profiled as a possible conservative cure for the the GOP ticket in today's New York Times.
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