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Starting Gate: Winding Down

Is this the way the Democratic nomination battle will end, with a whimper rather than a roar? Now that Barack Obama holds the lead in just about every metric – pledged delegates, the popular vote and now even among superdelegate endorsements, the Hillary Clinton "drop-out" watch has begun in earnest.

For their part, the Obama forces are being very careful not to do anything that would make it look as though they are trying to bully or force Clinton out of the race – a posture likely to remain operative as long as Clinton doesn't attack Obama. But just because they're giving an opponent the room to wrap up the race on her own terms, it doesn't mean their candidate won't pay a price.

Obama may be taking the high road and turning his focus on the general election but in the meantime, he could take a beating tomorrow in West Virginia. A new poll from Suffolk University shows Clinton leading Obama by 36 points, 60 percent to 24 percent. While there aren't enough votes or delegates remaining in the final six contests, margins like that in any of them – especially West Virginia where Democrats have been successful in some general elections – aren't going to help put to rest the arguments of some Clinton backers that she's more electable in November.

While Obama should be taking a victory lap, he could end up the primary season having lost five out of the final ten contests starting with Pennsylvania if Clinton remains in the race through the end in June. While not fatal, or perhaps not even damaging, it can't be helpful. Think about what would have happened, for instance, if Mike Huckabee had upset John McCain in Virginia while McCain was cruising toward the nomination? He didn't, of course, but such a turn would have resurrected serious concerns about his candidacy.

It's hard for even the strongest Obama partisans to argue that Clinton hasn't earned the right to finish the campaign on her own terms. But if she thrashes the prohibitive favorite at the ballot box along the way, it certainly won't be the ending most Democrats would have written.

Around The Track

  • John McCain will flash his environmental credentials today in a speech in Portland, Oregon. "For all of the last century, the profit motive basically led in one direction - toward machines, methods and industries that used oil and gas," McCain will say according to prepared remarks. "Enormous good came from that industrial growth, and we are all the beneficiaries of the national prosperity it built. But there were costs we weren't counting, and often hardly noticed. And these terrible costs have added up now, in the atmosphere, in the oceans and all across the natural world." McCain's campaign is also airing a new ad to accompany the speech in Oregon.
  • The man who had been selected by McCain to run the GOP convention resigned after it was disclosed that his lobbying firm has in the past represented the military regime in Myanmar. Doug Goodyear issued a statement over the weekend announcing the move. "Today I offered the convention my resignation so as not to become a distraction in this campaign. I continue to strongly support John McCain for president, and wish him the best of luck in this campaign."
  • Move over Lincoln-Douglass, we may be on the verge of seeing the first traveling roadshow in modern presidential campaign history -- featuring both candidates. The McCain campaign has floated the idea of the two candidates making joint appearances for debates and town hall forums beginning as early as this summer. And Obama's campaign says it's taking the idea "very seriously" Obama strategist David Axelrod said yesterday.
  • While most Obama supporters are giving Clinton the room to exit the race gracefully and on her own terms, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy took a swipe at Clinton when he was asked about the possibility of Obama selecting her for his running mate. Obama needs a running mate who is "in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people," Kennedy responded and added, "if we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it'd be enormously helpful." Rep. Rahm Emanuel – a former Clinton administration official who represents Obama's home town of Chicago called the New York Times to admonish Kennedy: "I have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy, but I don't know how the hell he comes off saying that," he said Emanuel. "The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals."
  • "I know how hard it is to get up and go out there every day, speak to the media, speak to crowds, when people are urging you to get out of the race. I mean, it's a very hard place to be in. But she's shown a lot of strength about that." – John Edwards, understanding Hillary Clinton's position, on yesterday's Face the Nation.