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Starting Gate: Where We Are

After today's results in Indiana and North Carolina have been combed through and pronouncements made about the state of the Democratic presidential contest, one fact will be very clear – this race is almost finished but may be nowhere near being over.

The overall picture may be no more obvious after tonight (although it possibly could be much clearer) but the primary clock is quickly winding down. There are 187 delegates up for grabs today. In the six contests remaining, there are just 217 pledged delegates left.

According to CBS News estimates, Barack Obama leads among delegates overall with 1,745 compared to 1,603 for Hillary Clinton. In pledged delegates (those won in state contests), Obama leads 1,488 to 1,332. Among those superdelegates, Clinton leads 271 to 257 with 267 left up for grabs.

Assuming that the two candidates split the remaining pledged delegates (and because of the proportional allocation system that is roughly what almost certainly will happen), Obama will finish the primary season about 80 delegates or so short of the nomination, meaning that the superdelegates will ultimately decide the race.

On that front, there is some good news for Obama. Despite losing Pennsylvania by 10 points and going through the Rev. Wright controversy, Obama has picked up 22 superdelegates since Pennsylvania according to CBS News. Clinton has gotten the support of 13 since her victory there. Barring a loss in both states, Obama can reasonably expect to have the upper hand going forward.

Even assuming that Obama will be well within striking distance of the magic number of 2,025, he won't get there without a substantial number of those superdelegates who can taketh away as quickly as they gaveth. And let's not even get started on the popular vote calculations and the Michigan/Florida messes.

The primaries are almost over, and today is the last big day in terms of what's at stake. But the "winner" might not be decided until the convention in Denver. If you were either of these candidates would you even entertain the possibility of dropping our before then?

Courting Conservatives: John McCain delivers a major address on judges today – one of the causes near and dear to the conservatives he continues to court. In his speech, McCain will defend his role as one of the "Gang of 14" while seeking to reassure conservatives that he will seek out strict constructionist judges to appoint.

"I have my own standards of judicial ability, experience, philosophy, and temperament," McCain will say, according to prepared remarks. "And Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito meet those standards in every respect. They would serve as the model for my own nominees if that responsibility falls to me. And yet when President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to serve on the high court, I voted for their confirmation, as did all but a few of my fellow Republicans. Why? For the simple reason that the nominees were qualified, and it would have been petty, and partisan, and disingenuous to insist otherwise. Those nominees represented the considered judgment of the president of the United States. And under our Constitution, it is the president's call to make."

"In the Senate back then, we didn't pretend that the nominees' disagreements with us were a disqualification from office even though the disagreements were serious and obvious. It is part of the discipline of democracy to respect the roles and responsibilities of each branch of government, and, above all, to respect the verdicts of elections and judgment of the people. Had we forgotten this in the Senate, we would have been guilty of the very thing that many federal judges do when they overreach, and usurp power, and betray their trust."

"The surest way to restore fairness to the confirmation process is to restore humility to the federal courts. In federal and state courts, and in the practice of law across our nation, there are still men and women who understand the proper role of our judiciary. And I intend to find them, and promote them, if I am elected president."

Equal Time: Barack Obama appeared on the "Late Show" with David Letterman to deliver the "Top Ten Surprising Facts About Barack Obama," and that meant last night was Clinton's turn. She provided Letterman with the "Top Ten Reasons Hillary Clinton Loves America," which included the ability to order her trademark pantsuits around the clock:

10. "We have more Dakotas than every other country combined."

9. "Canadian bacon: soggy and chewy; American bacon: crisp and delicious!"

8. "Thanks to the Internet, I can order new pantsuits 24/7. There's your pantsuit joke, Dave. Are you happy now?"

7. "232 years and not one cookie shortage."

6. "TiVo."

5. "Did I mention the soup? Mmm, soup."

4. "Did you know former President Teddy Roosevelt was an American?"

3. "Where else can you get a car painted for $29.95?"

2. "Is this the part where I say, 'Live from New York, it's Saturday Night?'"

1. "Apparently anyone can get a talk show."

Around The Track

  • People magazine reports the already obvious – that there will be no John Edwards endorsement in advance of the North Carolina primary: "The couple said they will not endorse either remaining candidate, saving their political capital for their own causes – his, fighting poverty; hers, fighting for universal health care."
  • A Teamsters spokesman is refuting a report that Barack Obama secured the group's endorsement by promising to end federal oversight of the union. "Senator Obama has promised us nothing in exchange for our endorsement," Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell told the AP.
  • Clinton supporter James Carville looks at the difficult job the Democratic nominee will eventually face in uniting the party for the fall: "As President George W. Bush could tell you, it is one thing to call yourself a uniter, it is another to actually unite people. For the Democratic nominee, it is going to be one demanding, difficult job requiring an inordinate amount of patience and skill. But then again, that is what a president has to do."
  • McCain is expected to attend the NRA's annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky next week.
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