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LAist Political Notebook: McCain Flirts, Obama Soars

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Thomas Pynchon once said, "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." But if they find you in the romantic embrace of a lobbyist and you happen to be a Senator from Arizona, it doesn't matter what they're asking, just what they are reporting and late Wednesday, the New York Times broke it wide open.
In a piece that had apparently been in the works since Christmas,the Times reported that, John McCain might have had a romantic affair with a 40-year-old lobbyist eight years ago as he geared up for his inaugural run for President.

Both McCain and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, have denied an affair but sources quoted said aides of the senator were worried enough to "protect the candidate from himself" by "instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him."

(Interesting background on why the Times decided to hold off on publishing the story here.)

The allegation, which brings the names Jennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky back to the fray (and not as Republicans had intended, I imagine), might not be enough to derail the straight talk express on its path to the Republican nomination, but it could lead to further disillusionment for those on the right that had already questioned McCain's credentials as a conservative.

Bloviators named Rush, Coulter and Hannity could run with this as mouthpieces to the sect of the Republican Party that is calling for a regrouping in 2008 to become better, faster, stronger as the Six-Million Dollar party of 2012, similar to what happened when Ronald Reagan trounced his way to power in 1980 following a wave of discontent against Jimmy Carter and the Democrats.

But that was then and this is now, where Obama continues to build a huge, perhaps insuperable lead as he assumes the mantle of Democratic front-runner.

With strong wins in the Hawaii and Wisconsin primaries, Obama has now staked his claim as the leader of pack.

According to Chuck Todd, political director for NBC, Obama's lead in the superdelegate count might be insurmountable.

"Since Super Tuesday, he has picked up 15 and [Clinton] has lost 4," he said on Countdown with Keith Olbermann Wednesday. "Her superdelegate lead, which at one time was 90, is now down to 67. If you add that all together, Obama has a 150 pledged delegate lead and may have a 100 superdelegate lead by March 4.

"The math is not impossible, but it is improbable [for Clinton to win]."

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As her chances to win the nomination begin to fade, the Clinton camp could work to lower people's expectations and try to chip away at Obama's image, he said. Evidence of that is already being seen as Clinton continues to air negative advertisements in Ohio and Texas and attempts to portray herself as the underdog.

"We were outspent by a margin of 4-1," Clinton said in an email to supporters Wednesday, asking them to contribute money to "remain competitive."

But a new batch of national polls portend gloom for the once front-runner.

According to a Reuters/Zogby poll released Wednesday, Obama has shot past Clinton to open a big national lead in the Democratic race. The poll showed Obama with a 14 point edge over Clinton, 52% to 38%, after being in a statistical tie with her last month.

The latest Gallup Poll Daily showed that Obama has handily increased his lead over Clinton nationally in just two days. On Feb. 17, he was up by 1% over Clinton and on Feb. 19, that lead ballooned to 5%, with a +/-3 margin of error.

So, is the end near for Clinton? Columnists all over the map are finding new and different ways to pronounce her campaign dead.

  • Time's Michael Grunwald said, "Clinton's effort to put a favorable gloss on her losing streak is out of touch with reality."
  • The Associated Press declared, Clinton has a "daunting task ahead of her," saying she must win 57% of the remaining primary and caucus delegates to erase Obama's lead.
  • The LA Times said, "Obama's win raised new doubts about the Clinton campaign's strategy of casting the Illinois senator as a candidate whose soaring rhetoric masks a lack of preparation for the presidency."
  • Michael Gerson at the Washington Post argues that "Clinton's largest problem is not a lack of money or public enthusiasm. It is the lack of a compelling narrative for her campaign."

And, just for good measure, The Politico reported Wednesday that the Clinton camp ended January with a $7.6 million debt, not including the $5 million she lent her campaign. She owes $2 million to chief strategist Mark Penn and,

The lengthy laundry list of IOUs also includes unpaid bills ranging from insurance coverage, phone banking, printing and catering at events in Iowa, New Hampshire and California. [The Politico]

But Clinton's advisor's still believe she has a fighting chance. There are two weeks until the Texas and Ohio primaries which is an eternity in politics and advisors believe that because Obama is now the front-runner he will receive more scrutiny.

"Mr. Obama is the frontrunner," senior adviser Harold Ickes said. "There will be increased scrutiny on him and his ability to be president."

Also, the Clinton camp continues to call for the inclusion of delegates from Florida and Michigan, though both states violated party rules by moving their primary ahead of the Democratic National Committee's mandated schedule.

While her chances remain slim (a few of her campaign insiders are even pessimistic), some supporters remain hopeful.

"Is she still in an uphill fight? Yes. But is it an implausible scenario? Absolutely not," said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who advised New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. [The Politico]

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