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« OR Primaries Tight | Blog Home Page | Merkley Survives Sen Primary »

Strategy Memo: Bluegrass, Beavers And Bostonians

Good Wednesday morning. After contests in Oregon and Kentucky last night, Puerto Rico remains the only sizable prize left. Surely one of the candidates will venture to San Juan, right? (Don't forget, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama have both taken trips to the island) Aside from tan lines, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House today votes on expiring tax provisions, a defense authorization bill and the conference report on the contentious budget resolution. The Senate, which began debating the latest war supplemental yesterday, will hold a procedural votes on the bill. In advance of Memorial Day, President Bush meets with George Lisicki, national commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Later, Bush signs a bill banning discrimination based on genetic information and sitsdown with the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir. Also today, Vice President Cheney gives the commencement address to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

-- Before we get to the news of the day, even elections yesterday couldn't overcome word that Senator Ted Kennedy had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Long the icon to liberals everywhere, and preferred whipping boy of the right, Kennedy actually works more across party lines than most people know, as evinced by the kind words that came yesterday from even the most conservative Republicans. Perhaps the most effective legislator in the upper chamber, he has his name atop at least one of the major battles of each Congress, and no one in the country is untouched by his work over the last four and a half decades in the Senate. He'll be back soon enough.

-- In ballot box news, both Democratic candidates gave victory speeches last night (in which they acknowledged Kennedy's influence on the nation and their party) focusing on very different themes. Hillary Clinton, who won the Kentucky primary by a whopping 65%-30% margin, sees that as an indication that she should stay in the race and intends to be there until Florida and Michigan delegates are seated at the convention, in some fashion. Barack Obama, who won Oregon's mail-in primary by a 58%-42% margin (with just 88% reporting so far), subtly made the point to a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, and in an email to supporters last night, that the two performances have given him half of the pledged delegates available in primaries and contests, which will put new pressure on super delegates to break to his side.

-- The race, Obama is saying without saying, is over. And at the rate super delegates are deciding, he's probably right. He's got 1,652 pledged delegates, according to the latest RCP Delegate Count, and 305 super delegates so far, putting him just 69 delegates from the 2,026 he needs to secure the nomination. At five super delegates a day, the rate he's been averaging, that mark is a mere fourteen days away. Then again, watch for the Obama campaign to get close to that mark, then encourage other super delegates to pause so that he can grab the mantle with an actual electoral win, likely in Montana and South Dakota on June 3. (As a measure of how confident the Obama team is, top aide Paul Tewes is in talks preparing to take over the DNC, USA Today writes)

-- So why is Clinton still in the race? She's rebuffed suggestions from some friends and allies that her continued presence in the race hurts the party, the New York Times writes today (The fact that people have begun to say that to the candidate herself is remarkable as it is), thinking she can either still win the nomination or that she can accomplish more of the goals she set out to achieve. Clinton has also told close friends that she believes sexism is a larger factor than racism in the primary, and that she is continuing to show young female supporters that she's not a quitter.

-- Also, Clinton doesn't buy the fact that Obama needs 2,026 delegates to secure the nomination; he needs 2,210, she said in her victory speech in Louisville last night, a number that includes full delegations from Florida and Michigan. Winning the remaining three primaries, Clinton's team believes, could put them in a stronger position to influence the outcome of a May 31 Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting in Washington, at which the two states will have a final chance to make their case and committee members will have the chance to vote on a number of proposals to allocate delegates. At the moment, twelve committee members back Clinton, eight back Obama and ten are neutral.

-- On the other side of the aisle, John McCain, who is nearing the end of his not-so-self-imposed media exile, is making a major effort to build a more colorful Republican coalition than before. McCain spent yesterday talking Cuba policy before audiences in Miami, slamming Barack Obama for what McCain said was a promise to meet with Raul Castro, per the Miami Herald (bonus shot of McCain's new guayaberas). Cuban Americans have a long history of voting Republican, though their fidelity to the GOP has slipped of late, and McCain hopes to bring Hispanic voters as a whole more his way. McCain will also reach out to African American voters, most prominently by addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's national convention in Cincinnati this July, the Associated Press reports. Last year, McCain declined the group's invitation to speak.

-- Campaign Moves Of The Day: As promised, McCain ad guru Mark McKinnon will step down from the campaign as Barack Obama locks up the nomination, The Fix reported first yesterday. McKinnon, a former Democrat who worked for President Bush and stuck by McCain through the darkest moments of his campaign, has said he could not bring himself to work against Obama. He's the sixth top McCain staffer to leave in a little over a week, though the others left thanks to ties to lobbyists. Three top GOP ad men -- Fred Davis, Chris Mottola and Mike Hudome -- will take over for McKinnon, and though there was some speculation that Mike Murphy, insider extraordinare, would be back on the team, especially after Murphy and McCain met this weekend. No dice, though, says Murphy.

-- Today On The Trail: Both Democrats are in Florida today to campaign, though we bet Obama will focus more on John McCain while Clinton pays more attention to seating delegates. Obama has events planned in Tampa, where he will rally, and in Kissimmee, where he hosts a town hall this afternoon. Clinton will campaign in Boca Raton, Sunrise and Coral Gables, Florida. McCain, meanwhile, has no public events planned today.