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Morning Thoughts: The Whiny Campaign

Good Tuesday morning. Only a week to go before we can stop contemplating cheese steaks, Utz pretzels and terrible towels in order to focus on another state. But in that next week, Pennsylvanians are going to get a taste of what Iowa is like, only with much, much warmer weather (this writer left Iowa at about seven degrees, only to land in Manchester, where it was three degrees). Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets today to continue work on a bill that would fix earlier highway and transportation legislation, while the House will discuss measures on taxes and to provide funding for some elections. Meanwhile, Secretaries Robert Gates, Carlos Gutierrez and Condoleezza Rice will each testify before different committees of Congress today. And President Bush will head all the way to Andrews Air Force Base to meet Pope Benedict XVI, who lands in Washington for his first trip to the United States as head of the Catholic Church.

-- On the campaign trail, Barack Obama has often referred to himself as a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign. But for all his professions about being different, Obama's rapid response operation looks pretty ordinary for a major national campaign. Obama's team has two speeds: Outrage and attack, and both have been on display in recent days. As Politico's Zenilman and Smith write, there is no apology. "Bitter"-gate has shown Obama's ability to hit back, against both John McCain and Hillary Clinton, while any number of comments about the candidate, from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell or former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, allow Obama's team to be outraged and imply racism.

-- McCain has been getting into the same act, most recently over comments from liberal radio show host Ed Schultz, who called the Republican candidate a "warmonger," and from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, who implied McCain didn't care about others' lives when he was at war. In both instances, McCain called on Obama to denounce those remarks, and in both cases Obama distanced himself from the comments and those who made them. With both candidates likely headed to a general election, each will be unwilling to give up the moral high ground, meaning we could be in for a lot of outrage and anger as the race goes on.

-- But stupid comments are something both campaigns will have to deal with. Obama's comments that rural voters are bitter and ar clinging to their guns and gods got a lot of people irritated, and while he recognizes the reason people are mad, the gaffe shows Obama still has something to learn as a candidate. That's something his advisers are going to have to figure out and continue to work on. McCain is going to have to deal with comments from others, like Republican Parties who spread rumors that Obama is Muslim or the northern Kentucky Congressman who referred to McCain's opponent as "that boy," a story that took off yesterday and has Republican Rep. Geoff Davis apologizing. Every time a Republican speaks ill of Obama in an underhanded way, McCain's the one who suffers.

-- Hillary Clinton knows a little something about counter-punching and taking offense as well, and she's doing a little of both in her own response to Obama's "bitter" gaffe. Clinton is up with a new person-on-the-street ad with Keystone Staters expressing their disappointment and the offense they took at Obama's remarks, and the ad is Pyrrhic enough in nature that it's sure to get DNC chief Howard Dean and other leading Democrats to begin to sweat about the prospects of losing in November. It's enough to make a super delegate have to seriously think about the question of whether they would rather lose the election or lose a good chunk of their base. Upon sober reflection, most would rather lose one election than ten, making Clinton's tactics difficult for her to pull off.

-- But for the next week, look at Pennsylvania alone: While no reliable polls have come out post-gaffe, Clinton maintains a 6.9 point lead in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average, with tomorrow likely being the crucial day when polls emerge. Watch how much that number changes over the next few days, and in whose favor. That late momentum will be crucial to determining whether Clinton can reach the bar that's been set for her. For all their vaunted talent, though, the Clinton campaign has received little credit for the expectations they have tried to set, while the Obama campaign has gotten virtually a free pass in their own bar-setting skills. At this point, frustrated Clinton advisers should be asking members of the media what they have to do to actually get a victory.

-- On Tax Day, John McCain will be the focus of at least a few Pennsylvanians and reporters. McCain will deliver a speech in Pittsburgh on his own economic policy, which will walk a fine line between cutting spending and offering some aid to students, the elderly and families. True to form, McCain will spend much of his time talking about reducing discretionary spending and killing pork-barrel projects, the Wall Street Journal writes. This marks the beginning of what is expected to be a multi-day focus on economic policies, an issue on which McCain needs to lay out his proposals in a more obvious way. Why he'll do it in Pittsburgh, though, when Democrats are dominating the airwaves, instead of, say, Michigan, Wisconsin, even Minnesota, is a question only the philosophers can answer.

-- Pander Of The Day: Well, it's not really a pander, but in front of a room packed with journalists, McCain said he backs a law to protect confidential news sources, the AP's David Espo writes. Espo was in the room at the Associated Press' annual meeting in Washington, where, questioned by top political writer Liz Sidoti, McCain made at least a little bit of news in front of perhaps the most important lobbyists he can work with -- the ones with readers. Sidoti, a frequent rider on the Straight Talk Express, made McCain more comfortable during the interview by providing a box of Dunkin' Donuts, a staple on the bus.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama meets with the Building Trades Legislative Conference in Washington today before heading to a town hall meeting in Washington, Pennsylvania. Clinton is in the nation's capitol to address the Newspaper Association of America, while McCain gives his economic speech in Pittsburgh then meets the media and films "Hardball" at Villanova, just outside of Philadelphia.