As the voters of Oregon and Kentucky cast their ballots, a round-up of this morning's must-read stories.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN KENTUCKY...
(Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico)
Hillary Clinton is counting on Kentucky to give her more ammunition to make her case to the superdelegates who control the fate of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. If the state gives her a victory anywhere close to the 41-point landslide she got out of neighboring West Virginia last week, Team Clinton will have considerably more evidence to buttress its argument about her electability. It would embolden her to assert she could win Kentucky in the general election against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, and to claim that Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama is unable to expand the Democratic electoral map into states like Kentucky. If Clinton wins by a larger margin than the one by which Obama is expected to beat her in Tuesday’s other primary in Oregon, it would also amplify her assertion that she’s ahead in total votes, if Florida and Michigan are counted.
... AND IN OREGON
Oregon seems tailor-made for Barack Obama. The Democratic voters are considered progressive, post-partisan and reform-minded. Every member of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation voted against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. It’s one of the least diverse states in the country, but not one where race generally comes into play in politics, said Mark Wiener, a Portland-based Democratic political consultant... All of this portends a strong showing Tuesday for Obama. A better-than-expected performance for Hillary Rodham Clinton would do wonders for her campaign, but few, if any, Oregon political experts predict such an outcome. Here is what Oregon political strategists and experts will be watching Tuesday:
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
(Adam Nagourney, New York Times)
When it comes time to recount the story of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s descent from inevitable nominee to defeat at the hands of Senator Barack Obama — assuming that is how this ends up — there is no shortage of mistakes by the Clinton campaign to put on the what-went-wrong list. But without in any way discounting the travails of the Clinton organization, there have also been a series of external events in this Democratic nominating fight — events largely beyond the control of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — that, had they gone differently, might just have resulted in a different outcome. Politics is often as much about luck as it is about skill; the Clinton campaign arguably ran short on both this year. Here, in no particular order, are some of the factors and developments that undercut her candidacy, some self-inflicted, others inflicted upon her: The Timing of the Edwards Endorsement; Michigan and Florida; The Drudge Report; The Tipping Scandal; Immigrants Behind the Wheel; The Return of Joe Trippi; Bill Clinton; Planted Questions and False Rumors.
MORE: Why Clinton Fights On (Richard Cohen, Washington Post)
She is staying in the race because losing comes soon enough, anyway, and life teaches that anything can happen. Sure, she's hurting the Democratic Party a bit, and, sure, she's inflicting some damage on Barack Obama. He will not only hear echoes of Clinton's attacks out of the mouth of John McCain, but on the Internet and elsewhere they will be recycled so that Clinton herself will be the attacker. Nothing dies on YouTube. But in the end, when Obama is crowned king of the Democrats, Clinton will throw her arms around him and the music will swell and the crowds will cheer -- and everything will be forgotten. And when that happens, Hillary Clinton -- who will be only 65 in 2012 and four years after that still will be younger than McCain is now -- will be positioned to run for president, not as someone's wife, but as a gritty fighter who just would not quit.
OBAMA, CLINTON TREADING GENTLY ON THE STUMP
(Dan Balz, Washington Post)
Obama has moved rapidly in the past 10 days to shift away from daily sparring with Clinton and to begin a general election debate with McCain that presents a fresh set of tests for his candidacy. But, his aides insist, he is mindful that he do nothing to suggest impatience with Clinton or to signal that she end her candidacy before she is ready. Clinton, meanwhile, soldiers on toward the end of the primaries on June 3 and perhaps longer against seemingly insurmountable odds. She is determined, aides say, neither to be pushed from the race prematurely nor to be seen as doing anything to damage Obama's prospects of winning a general election against John McCain, if Obama is the nominee. She believes, the aides say, that is the best way to bring the party together as quickly as possible once the nomination contest is over.
MCCAIN FINDS THORNY PATH IN ETHICS EFFORT
(Barry Meier and Kate Zernike, New York Times)
Mr. McCain’s political identity has long been defined by his calls for reducing the influence of special interests in Washington. But as he heads toward the general election as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he has increasingly confronted criticism that his campaign staff is stocked with people who have made their living as lobbyists or in similar jobs, leaving his credentials as a reformer open to attack. The process of trying to purge the campaign of conflicts that in appearance or reality might violate Mr. McCain’s stated principles or cause him political trouble has so far focused only more attention on the backgrounds of his aides and advisers.
(Christopher Hitchens, Slate)
In the near-universal sarcastic mirth that accompanied the rolling-out of Sen. John McCain's somewhat utopian speech in Columbus, Ohio, on May 15, the quixotic nature of his foreign-policy ambitions was generally stressed. As a consequence, one of his smaller and more realistic and achievable domestic proposals seems to have been overlooked. "I will ask Congress," said the presumptive Republican nominee, "to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons." This is a reformist proposal with quite a long and interesting pedigree, and it speaks well, I think, of the man proposing it... He has made a rather generous and intelligent offer. He probably thinks that it is in keeping with his expressed commitment to that chimera known as "bipartisanship." He would soon find out that nothing intensified political rancor more than a good old-fashioned Question Time, but no doubt the idea was well-meant, and I was sorry to see that discussion of it was mostly lost in the general sneering.
OBAMA SHIFTS TO COUNTERING REPUBLICAN ATTACKS ON HIS PATRIOTISM
(Juliana Goldman, Bloomberg News)
The flag pin that appeared on Barack Obama's lapel is just the opening salvo of Operation Patriotism for the Democratic presidential candidate. The Illinois senator overcame his longstanding reluctance to wear a flag pin after he was presented with one by a veteran in Charleston, West Virginia, on May 12. Obama is trying to head off what advisers expect to be a Republican effort to impugn his patriotism. His campaign plans to emphasize his family's military ties, his work on behalf of veterans and his life story...Obama plans to use speeches and campaign events to reinforce his patriotic image to America by evoking his grandparent's military background. He also plans to speak sometime this summer near Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, where his grandfather is buried... Obama's advisers said he would describe his life story as a uniquely American one. The campaign also will roll out more supporters among retired military figures and younger veterans, and plans to highlight Obama's legislative record... The flag and other patriotic props will be displayed more often, Danzig said.
KARL ROVE'S SLY DEAL WITH FOX
(Amanda Terkel and Matt Torley, Salon)
Fox News hosts routinely introduce Rove as a "former senior advisor to President Bush," "the architect," a "political wizard" and a "famed political consultant." But never has he been introduced as he should be -- as an informal advisor and maxed-out donor to John McCain's presidential campaign. To political news junkies, a disclosure of Rove's relationship to the McCain campaign may seem unnecessary. But whether the public simply assumes that Rove supports McCain isn't the point. The "most influential pundit" in America, as Fox likes to trumpet, should have to play by the same rules as other high-profile political analysts. For example, Paul Begala and James Carville are regularly identified as supporters of Hillary Clinton when they appear on CNN. But Rove has been able to act as an independent observer while criticizing Clinton and Barack Obama, McCain's likely general election opponent. There is nothing shocking about Rove's attacking Democrats, of course. And his operating with a duplicitous air of independence probably isn't going to make or break Fox's claim to "fair and balanced" coverage. But will the greater public catch on?
OBAMA EXPECTED TO HIT MILESTONE IN TUESDAY'S VOTES
(Patrick Healy, New York Times)
For Mr. Obama, the situation is delicate. While eager to proceed to a general election match with Senator John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican nominee, Mr. Obama is also trying to bring the contest to a close in a way that allows him to win over Mrs. Clinton’s supporters and unify the party. For her part, Mrs. Clinton is making a counterargument that she is winning the popular vote if Florida and Michigan are counted, and that the party’s leaders should take that into consideration before deciding which candidate to support. The results from the Kentucky and Oregon primaries on Tuesday will almost certainly allow Mr. Obama to reach a threshold that his campaign has long sought to establish as the critical measure of the will of the party: winning a majority of the delegates awarded in primaries and caucuses. He also continues to gather support from the party leaders known as superdelegates that he still needs to secure the nomination, picking up five more endorsements on Monday. Mr. Obama does not want to appear as if he is pushing Mrs. Clinton out of the race, preferring instead to treat her gracefully as a worthy Democratic fighter, not as a stubborn nemesis.
OBAMA 'STRONGER,' 'BETTER' AFTER STRUGGLE
(Roger Simon, Politico)
After an election is over, the media usually decide that everything the winner did was an act of genius and everything the loser did was a terrible mistake, but Axelrod knows the truth is far more complicated than that. Campaigns make bad and good decisions, and maybe the winning campaign makes more good than bad ones or maybe sometimes it just gets lucky. In any case, the smart campaigns realize their defeats are far more important than their victories, because defeats teach lessons that victories do not. “After we lost the New Hampshire primary,” Axelrod says, “the next day, on about three hours of sleep, [Obama] said, ‘I think what happened yesterday was right. When you are the new guy, it is not supposed to be easy. It was like Icarus flying too close to the sun. We have to earn this. But it persuaded me this is the right battle.’”