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« Down-Ballot Drama | Blog Home Page | Long Thompson Eeks Out Win »

Strategy Memo: As A Doornail

Good Wednesday morning. If you're anything like Politics Nation, you've had close to no sleep since Monday night. That, friends, is what a good Election Night is all about. Here is what a groggy Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets today to consider a bill on flood insurance, while the House will take up bills aimed at muting the housing crisis. House Republicans head to the White House early this morning to meet with President Bush, after which he will make a statement. Later, Bush addresses an annual meeting of the Council of the Americas, as will several other Cabinet members. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez holds a roundtable discussion with several GOP senators on the importance of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on Capitol Hill, continuing to put pressure on Congressional Democrats to bring the measure to a vote.

-- On the campaign trail, yesterday's voting may have slammed the door on the Democratic nomination. Results from Indiana and North Carolina trickled in throughout last night, and they were not good for Hillary Clinton. After a drubbing in North Carolina -- late results indicate Obama won by sixteen points -- Clinton saw an early lead in Indiana shrink throughout the night, despite appearing on stage and declaring victory when only one media outlet had called the race for her. In the end, late results from key Obama strongholds helped the senator from the neighboring state pull within 25,000 votes.

-- Clinton's victory speech, which came about three hours after polls closed in Indiana, contained the defiant "full speed ahead" message advisers said she would project. But it did seem to include a vaguely concessionary note. She mentioned her website just a few times -- a tough night isn't going to bring in the money like her post-Pennsylvania haul -- and promised a unified Democratic Party once the contest is complete. Advisers probably became aware of that fact, and in order to project a new sense of optimism and haste, Clinton will now hold a rally in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, today, instead of spending the day down in Washington.

-- But appearances aside, after the last chance she had to seriously make up the delegate count, the calls for Clinton's withdrawal from the race will grow in coming days. More importantly, Clinton's last opportunity to persuade super delegates to stay on the sidelines has fallen flat. Of the 200-something super delegates who have yet to announce their support for a candidate, how many come out today in support of Obama? Early delegate tallies estimate that Obama netted an additional ten delegates out of last night's contest, bringing him to 1,842, just 162 short of the 2,024 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination without the assistance of Florida and Michigan.

-- Meanwhile, the media has come to the same conclusion. Bloggers started buzzing when NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert dropped a gem: "We now know who the democratic nominee is going to be and no one is going to dispute it." The New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes that Clinton's newfound energy and economic populism, built up after a big win in Pennsylvania, has left the building. Even Clinton's own team, the Post's Perry Bacon and Anne Kornblut write, was disappointed at the results, leading to a renewed focus on counting delegates from Michigan and Florida (Audible during Clinton's speech: Chants of "Count the votes! Count the votes!"). With no solution on the horizon, and no reason for the Obama campaign to acquiesce to one that won't benefit them, even that argument has become harder for Clinton to make.

-- But why quit now? Clinton faces contests in West Virginia and Kentucky in the next two weeks, races she is expected to win easily. It is unlikely that even huge wins in those states will do any good: Delegate breakdowns were not available this morning, but after a big win, Obama is likely to net a number of delegates out of North Carolina, and after such a close race in Indiana, no one is likely to emerge with more than a one- or two-delegate advantage. Kentucky has 51 delegates up for grabs, which is one fewer than Oregon has, a state likely to go as heavily for Obama as the Bluegrass State will for Clinton. Even with West Virginia, Clinton will not make up many more delegates than she lost tonight. Expectations for wins are one thing, but the underlying fact remains that Obama, after tonight, is extremely unlikely to lose the Democratic nomination.

-- The man who can claim he kept Clinton in the race, at least for a little while: El Rushbo. Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" had an effect in Indiana, the Obama campaign claimed, delivering a little under 7% of the primary electorate for Clinton. Based on exit polls, 41% of voters who would back John McCain in a November matchup between the Arizona Senator and his colleague from New York cast ballots yesterday for Clinton, meaning they turned out specifically to keep Clinton's hopes -- and the non-stop Democratic contest -- alive. ABC News polling director Gary Langer disagrees that Limbaugh's encouragement gave Clinton her margin while Huffington Post's Sam Stein takes the opposite view. But lack of concrete credit hasn't stopped Limbaugh from crowing before, and it won't today.

-- Fissure Of The Day: As the Democratic race concludes, many have contemplated just who can give Clinton the news that her race is futile. The combination of close advisers and strategists will include husband Bill, but would it be Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman? DNC uber-member Harold Ickes? Perhaps retired General Wesley Clark, one of Clinton's biggest backers. Clark called Clinton last night, prominent liberal blog AMERICAblog reported early this morning, to become the first major Clinton backer to break the news. The question today: Will any of Clinton's other major backers follow suit?

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton hosts a town hall meeting in Shepherdstown, West Virginia before raising money at a Washington hotel. Obama is spending today down in Chicago. And John McCain has a town hall meeting set for Rochester, Michigan, before heading to New York for a guest appearance on The Daily Show. McCain's appearance tonight will make him the most-frequent guest Jon Stewart has had on the show.