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Strategy Memo: Outplay, Outwit, Outlast

Good Friday morning. In case you missed it on Morning Joe recently, we're told Chuck Todd does his own stunts. For that and more Chuck Todd Facts, click here. Here's what Washington is keeping an eye on this morning:

-- The House and Senate are still taking it easy for Memorial Day recess. President Bush is off, too; the White House reports no public events today. Vice President Cheney is raising money for the Republican Party of Virginia at a reception this evening in Richmond, while a number of other Cabinet officials travel overseas. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is in the United Kingdom, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Singapore for a defense forum, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is in the middle of a swing through Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on the last day of a trip to Sweden and Iceland.

-- Barack Obama has yet another pastor problem, causing more distractions for a campaign that has proven less than completely adept at refocusing the debate. The Illinois Senator distanced himself yesterday from the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest whose weekend sermon at Obama's own Trinity United Church of Christ mocked rival Hillary Clinton for being "entitled" to the nomination. Pfleger, who is white and has been one of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's biggest supporters in Wright's own time of trouble, has apologized, the Sun Times' Lynn Sweet writes. The second pastor problem offers Obama another opportunity to prove to super delegates that his campaign can get over a hot flap. He's had those opportunities before, though, and missed each one.

-- Meanwhile, this is not what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid need right now. The House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader have begun to dip their toes in the presidential nominating swamp, contacting uncommitted super delegates to urge them to get off the fence, the New York Times' Carl Hulse writes. At the end of Tuesday's contests in South Dakota and Montana, Congressional Democratic leaders, as well as DNC chief Howard Dean, want this thing over one way or the other. Reid and Pelosi spoke about the matter a week ago, likely meaning that Clinton has just a few days left before major pressure from Democratic leaders comes to bear on the New York Senator to drop out of the race.

-- This weekend presents Clinton's last hurrah. When the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets Saturday to decide how to seat contested Florida and Michigan delegates, it likely presents the final opportunity for Clinton to gain a substantial number of delegates at one time. Make no mistake, both states will be seated in some form or another, as this author writes this morning. But Clinton's favorite scenario -- that both states' delegates should be seated by their primary results, handing Obama a big fat zero in Michigan, isn't going to happen. Still, with thirteen of twenty-eight RBC members backing Clinton and just nine backing Obama, the Illinois Senator has some hustling to do.

-- At the last RBC meeting, held late last Fall in Vienna, Virginia, just two reporters showed up. This time around, over 400 have made credentials requests, per a party source, and hundreds of Clinton-backing protesters will surround the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington demanding their right to vote (The list of speakers, including "Rep." Eric Massa, who is running against incumbent Rep. Randy Kuhl, comes from OnCall). While he once voted to strip both states of their delegates, Harold Ickes will lead the charge for Clinton's campaign, while the Detroit Free Press reports former John Edwards campaign manager David Bonior will represent Obama's team at the meeting. High profile appearances on both sides are expected.

-- The Associated Press points out what has become the fundamental truth of the Democratic race so far: For all their vaunted political talent, and for all the talk of Bill Clinton being the best political strategist in the Democratic Party, the Clinton campaign simply missed the boat when it came to party rules and the Obama campaign continues to run circles around them. In states like Nevada and Texas, even as Clinton won, Obama won more delegates. In caucus states, Obama beat out the New York Senator by wide margins while reducing his margins elsewhere, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign got the rules. The Clinton campaign did not; Ickes, who played a role in shaping the rules by which the game was played, was flustered by other top strategists' failure to grasp the concept (like Mark Penn). Had the campaign listened to Ickes more, perhaps the nominating fight would be different.

-- For John McCain, so much as a sniffle is going to be a major news story this year. The Arizona Senator released hundreds of pages of medical documents covering the past eight years (Obama released one page covering the last twenty) showing him in very good health, but the moment the campaign canceled today's planned events in Pennsylvania, rumors flew that the 71 year old had a cold. Not so, press secretary Brooke Buchanan told reporters at yesterday's town hall meeting in Wisconsin, per the New York Times. Her logic was pretty sound: "He's not sick," she said. "Otherwise, we would have canceled this," referring to an event in Greendale, where McCain again slammed Obama for not having traveled to Iraq. Still, justified or not, health is a concern the McCain campaign is going to have to deal with.

-- Smart Move Of The Day: Few independent voters will be persuaded to McCain's economic positions, or by some other, more generically Republican views. But the war in Iraq is still an issue, most polls indicate, on which McCain wins more trust than Obama does. The argument this week has been driven back to Iraq, thanks to McCain's allies, and that's where it will stay if Republicans are smart and lucky. This week's shots at Obama, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes, come after 870-something days of Obama not visiting the country, a fact on which McCain pounced and Republicans everywhere incorporated into their talking points. Next week, it will be something else.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain's only event for the day is a media availability in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Clinton rallies this evening at the Plaza de la Darsena in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, while Barack Obama holds a rally with voters at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, Montana. The arena is usually home to rodeos and the Montana State Fair, but today people will cram into the 50,000 square feet of space to hear Obama. By the way, in Montana, are white working class voters more like those in the Ohio River Valley, or more like those in Oregon? We'll find out on Tuesday.