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Strategy Memo: Breaking Now

Good Friday morning. With the NBA and NHL playoffs going on, it's getting harder just to watch a little baseball. Still, when you like the teams Politics Nation likes, it's probably best not to watch anyway. Speaking of cities with terrible teams, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate will not take votes today. President Bush is in Missouri, where he will tour a technology company and make remarks on the economy. He will spend the night at his ranch in Crawford. Vice President Cheney is fundraising for the 2008 Victory Committee in Tulsa, Oklahoma today. Meanwhile, committees advising the U.S. Census Bureau on surveying African American, Native American, Hispanic and Asia Pacific Islander communities will hold meetings today to discuss their progress, which could have a huge impact on redrawing congressional boundaries in 2010.

-- On the presidential campaign trail, yesterday we were convinced that Barack Obama had turned a corner, given the number of super delegates who came out to endorse him over the past few days. That was before we saw numbers that show Hillary Clinton building a large and convincing lead in Indiana. The latest RCP Indiana Average has the New York Senator up 4.8 points after a series of polls starting Friday showed her steadily gaining. Now, the state's polls are resembling, perhaps unremarkably, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with Obama hovering in the low-40s and Clinton near 50%. Cast as the state with an even playing field, a big Clinton win would be a big blow to Obama. It feels, in short, like undecided voters have started to break, and they're breaking for Clinton.

-- The pressure has got to be particularly awful for Senator Evan Bayh, the state's senior Democrat and one of Clinton's biggest backers, as both the Boston Globe and Indianapolis Star write today. Clinton has always done well in states where she has strong institutional support, most recently from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Earlier, she had support from the organizations that back Governor John Lynch and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and from Mayors in most major California cities (and senior Democrat Dianne Feinstein). Now it's Bayh's turn to deliver, and though Clinton's poll numbers are going up, Indiana super delegates like Joe Andrew and Rep. Baron Hill have turned to Obama instead of Clinton. At least Rendell was able to keep many, like Rep. Jason Altmire, on the sidelines instead of in Obama's camp.

-- Who could really make the Indiana difference? Voters who don't even like Bayh. Indiana's open primary means Republicans and independents can choose a Democratic ballot and pick their favored candidates. In earlier elections, those groups have leaned toward Obama. Republicans could make up between 5%-15% of the Democratic primary vote, campaigns and analysts say, per WSJ's Chris Cooper. Obama's support among the groups slipped in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but today he will roll out three top Republicans who are backing him, including a top aide to incumbent Governor Mitch Daniels.

-- In North Carolina, too, the gap has narrowed. Obama, who once led by nearly 16 points, is now up 8.4 points in the latest RCP North Carolina Average, thanks largely to an outlier that shows him up 16, though another potential outlier has Clinton up two. The state presents opportunities for both candidates. For Obama, it's the chance to halt the forward progress of a returning foe, as Clinton did in Pennsylvania. For Clinton, it's the chance to once again be the Comeback Kid and make the argument that she narrowed the gap significantly, assuming she loses by just a few points. (A quick note: Written at 8 a.m., those RCP Averages will change during the day as new polls are added, so be sure to click those links)

-- Surprisingly, and in a very good sign for Clinton, both states, not just Indiana, have become battlegrounds. In North Carolina, the candidates are fanning out today and will both address the state Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson dinner tonight, the Winston Salem Journal writes this morning. On Sunday, the two will do the same in Indianapolis, filling coffers of the Indiana Democratic Party. Meanwhile, money is flying out of third-party coffers and onto the Indiana airwaves, to the tune of $1.1 million for the American Leadership Project, a pro-Clinton organization and $500,000 from SEIU, which is backing Obama, TPM's Greg Sargent writes.

-- John McCain, meanwhile, keeps building a foundation from which to run in the Fall. After tours focused on parts of forgotten America and on health care, McCain's going back to scratch his base behind the ears with major speeches on the Second Amendment and judges, two issues with plenty of code word opportunities to signal to conservatives that he's really one of them. The judges speech will come on Tuesday in North Carolina, while the gun rights speech will come in mid-May at a convention in St. Louis, USA Today writes. The extent to and speed at which the conservative base, which once loathed McCain, has coalesced is impressive, but as McCain is forced to the center in October and November, he's going to need a reservoir of good will to keep those voters in line.

-- Democracy-Building Sign Of The Day: Since January 2007, the three leading contenders have raised more than $160 million from donors giving fewer than $200, according to a USA Today analysis, well more than double the amount raised by ten Democratic candidates in 2004. Obama leads by far, with $101 million raised compared with $44 million for Clinton and $16 million for McCain. Donors who gave the maximum of $2,300 made up just a third of both Clinton's and McCain's fundraising and about 20% of Obama's.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day with a press conference in Indianapolis and a town hall meeting focused on the economy in Munster, Indiana. Later he will rally in Charlotte before attending the state party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Raleigh. Clinton has events planned for Kinston, Hendersonville and Greensboro before heading to the same Raleigh dinner. McCain has a town hall and press availability in Denver. Michelle Obama is stumping at two events in North Carolina, while Bill Clinton will hold four events in Indiana.