The (Valentine's Day) Filter: 2.14.08

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.

(Adam Nagourney, New York Times) 

Neither candidate is expected to win the 2,025 pledged delegates needed to claim the nomination by the time the voting ends in June. But Mr. Obama’s campaign began making a case in earnest on Wednesday that if he maintained his edge in delegates won in primaries and caucuses, he would have the strongest claim to the backing of the 796 elected Democrats and party leaders known as superdelegates who are free to vote as they choose and who now stand to determine the outcome... With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton's advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton's count. Top among these, her aides said, is pressing for Democrats to seat the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan, who held their primaries in January in defiance of Democratic Party rules... The prospect of a fight over seating the Florida and Michigan delegations has already exposed deep divisions within the party.

(Monica Langley and Amy Chozick, Wall Street Journal)

The campaign has something of a shell-shocked feel, as staffers privately chew over a blowup last week where internal frictions flared into the open. Clinton campaign operatives say it happened as top Clinton advisers gathered in Arlington, Va., campaign headquarters to preview a TV commercial. "Your ad doesn't work," strategist Mark Penn yelled at ad-maker Mandy Grunwald. 'The execution is all wrong,' he said, according to the operatives. "Oh, it's always the ad, never the message," Ms. Grunwald fired back, say the operatives. The clash got so heated that political director Guy Cecil left the room, saying, "I'm out of here."

(Dan Balz, Washington Post)

Top Clinton strategists dismissed the idea that Obama's momentum is strong enough to carry him through the next three weeks, noting that perceptions have swung wildly from week to week depending on the outcome of state-by-state contests. Walter Mondale in 1984 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 lost key primaries before winning the nomination, chief strategist Mark Penn reminded reporters during a conference call. But others in the party, including some who have been backing Clinton, say Obama's winning streak has raised the stakes considerably.

(Peter Slevin and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post)

Obama's advisers and many Democratic strategists believe he can continue to chip away at Clinton's success with working-class voters and women by a new focus on the economy as he faces off against Clinton in Ohio and Texas, which hold primaries March 4; Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22; and Wisconsin, which votes on Tuesday. Recent polls show Obama, familiar to many in Wisconsin because of his popularity in neighboring Illinois, with a narrow lead over Clinton. He opened offices earlier, began television advertising sooner and visited the state twice last year.

(Paul Kane, Washington Post)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of home-state projects in last year's spending bills, placing her among the top 10 Senate recipients of what are commonly known as earmarks, according to a new study by a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. Working with her New York colleagues in nearly every case, Clinton supported almost four times as much spending on earmarked projects as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), whose $91 million total placed him in the bottom quarter of senators who seek earmarks, the study showed. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the likely GOP presidential nominee, was one of five senators to reject earmarks entirely, part of his long-standing view that such measures prompt needless spending.

McCain vs. Obama
(John Dickerson, Slate)

Both men are behaving as if the general election has already started because they want to bring the primary season to a faster close. Obama acts as if the once formidable Hillary Clinton has been beaten in the hopes her supporters will believe him and give up. For those voters who wonder if Obama is tough enough to take on McCain, the Democratic front-runner is showing them how he'll do it. McCain, whose nomination is the more secure of the two, is using those attacks to unite his party. He may not be able to rally conservatives with a new pitch on immigration, but they might like how he beats back the guy with the big rallies. Here are the emerging arguments from both candidates.

MORE: McCain and Obama Take Their Senatorial Rivalry into the Presidential Race (Jeff Zeleny, New York Times) 

(Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal)

The conventional critique of Sen. Obama has held that his pitch is perfect but at some point he'll need to make the appeal more concrete. I think the potential vulnerability runs deeper. Strip away the new coat of paint from the Obama message and what you find is not only familiar. It's a downer. Up to now, the force of Sen. Obama's physical presentation has so dazzled audiences that it has been hard to focus on precisely what he is saying. "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!" Can what? Listen closely to that Tuesday night Wisconsin speech. Unhinge yourself from the mesmerizing voice. What one hears is a message that is largely negative, illustrated with anecdotes of unremitting bleakness. Heavy with class warfare, it is a speech that could have been delivered by a Democrat in 1968, or even 1928.

(Stephen Dinan, Washington Times)

John McCain's campaign manager yesterday said the candidate will not pander for conservative support, even as his surrogates have made a second overture to see why chief competitor Mike Huckabee has not dropped out of the Republican presidential race. 

(Mike Madden, Salon)

What, exactly, is Mike Huckabee doing still hanging around a race he can't win?... Already, he has defied the conventional wisdom among Romney supporters, who expected Huckabee to endorse McCain hours, if not minutes, after Romney dropped out. If -- as other observers think -- he's hoping to collect enough delegates and momentum to persuade McCain to put him on the ticket, you'd think embarrassing the front-runner by beating him last weekend would be a bad way to go about it. On the other hand, if he's angling for a Fox News TV show in the future, as some Little Rock Republicans think, the free airtime can't hurt.

(Susan Saulny, New York Times)

Outspoken, strong-willed, funny, gutsy and sometimes sarcastic, Michelle Obama is playing a pivotal role in her husband’s campaign as it builds on a series of successes, including a sweep on Tuesday of contests in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Her personal style — forthright, comfortable in the trenches, and often more blunt than Mr. Obama — plays well with a broad swath of the electorate and has given the campaign a steelier edge while allowing Mr. Obama to stay largely above it all.