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Strategy Memo: Two Wounded Parties

Good Wednesday morning. Hoping to show he's just a normal guy, Barack Obama headed to a Charlestown billiard parlor a few days ago and performed much better than he did in a Latrobe bowling alley a few weeks back. But the bowling alley haunts him, as Ben Smith screen-grabs. In previous Clinton speeches, she had boxing gloves behind her. Now's it's a bowling pin. Here's what a chuckling Washington is watching this morning:

-- The House begins considering a supplemental war funding bill as well as a measure on food and energy security, while the Senate continues work on other measures. President Bush left Washington for a Middle East tour yesterday evening and this morning he arrives at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, before heading to Jerusalem to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the latter of whom could be knocked from office by a bribery indictment in a matter of days.

-- In the latest primary contest, the fifty-first this year, Hillary Clinton won West Virginia by a hefty 67%-26% margin, with John Edwards winning the remaining 7%. Clinton will take home about 20 of the state's 28 delegates, and the victory could provide the campaign with a fundraising bump -- they sent out the email and a text message last night -- and a new excuse to call for the seating of delegates from Michigan and Florida. As campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told the New York Times last night, a mantra he's taken to repeating, the win means Clinton will have the political and financial wherewithal to continue through June 3, though he won't say anything about June 4.

-- But West Virginia's election had racial undertones that neither candidate can find comforting. Exit polls show 22% of voters said the race of one of the candidates was important, and of those voters, 81% backed Clinton over Obama. Clinton won the remaining three quarters of the electorate by a much smaller 59% of the vote. Half of voters said Obama shares the views of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and 54% would be dissatisfied if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. In short, there is a segment of the Democratic electorate that will not vote for an African American, and enough of them live in West Virginia to show up in exit polls.

-- Those voters, less-educated, lower-income whites who dominate the state, as ABC News' Gary Langer finds in the exit polls, were similar in many regards to voters around the country -- they want change more than experience, the vast majority has been hit by hard economic times, and the majority thought Clinton had attacked Obama unfairly. In most other states, Obama has won the first and third categories, which Clinton has taken the second. In West Virginia, Clinton split change voters with Obama, with 47% to his 48%, while actually winning 54% of voters who said she had attacked unfairly.

-- Obama is still the likely nominee, but as Clinton pointed out last night, since 1916 no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia. That could spell trouble for Obama come November, not just in West Virginia but among like-minded voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those three states alone make up 44 electoral votes that can't be made up simply by being competitive in Virginia, Colorado and a few of the new states Obama's team thinks he can put on the table. And to make matters worse, there are other states that look more like Appalachia than like the Potomac area, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt.

-- John McCain had something of a bad night yesterday as well. In Mississippi, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, a Republican, lost a special election seat to Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers in a district that gave President Bush a 25-point win in 2004, making Childers the third Democrat to steal a special election from Republicans in the past three months. (See our write-up of the race here -- "GOP Stunned By Loss In Mississippi") McCain is running significantly ahead of his party in national polls, but if the GOP can't even win a seat in the heart of the Deep South, they're going to be able to lend their top of the ticket virtually no support come November.

-- How badly has the loss in Mississippi shaken the House GOP? "The political environment is such that voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general," National Republican Congressional Committee chair Tom Cole said in a shockingly forthcoming statement. "I encourage all Republican candidates, whether incumbents or challengers, to take stock of their campaigns and position themselves for challenging campaigns this fall by building the financial resources and grassroots networks that offer them the opportunity and ability to communicate, energize and turn out voters this election." One House leadership aide told Politics Nation: "To lose two Southern seats in two weeks, I mean, oh my God."

-- Rebound Of The Day: The morning after Clinton's big win in West Virginia, the two Democratic candidates are acting in very opposite roles, speaking to the larger status of the race as a whole. Clinton returned to Washington to sit with top members of her finance committee, while Obama has picked up backing from two super delegates, including Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky and the chairwoman of Democrats Abroad. Inching closer to the 2,025 delegates needed the day after getting smacked in West Virginia, or holding a pep rally among top advisers the day after winning big? Shouldn't those roles be reversed? Not this year.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama meets workers at an economic discussion in Warren, Michigan before rallying in Grand Rapids later tonight. It's Obama's first visit to Michigan in ten months after skipping the state's delegate-stripped contest in January. Wife Michelle, meanwhile, makes stops in San Juan and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Clinton is doing several television interviews today, including all three evening news programs and a spot on CNN. Husband Bill is in the Great Plains, stumping in Missoula, Montana before holding an event at a school in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. McCain, who was in Washington State yesterday, has no public events yet today.