Democratic contenders trade tough words before today's decisive primaries.

Democratic contenders trade tough words before today's decisive primaries.

Democratic contenders trade tough words before today's decisive primaries.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 4 2008 6:22 AM

Is This the End?

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with the last day of campaigning before the  potentially decisive primaries in Ohio and Texas. Voters in Rhode Island and Vermont also go to the polls today but the main focus tonight will be on the big states that could seal the fate of Sen. Hillary Clinton. The two Democratic candidates engaged in an intense battle of words yesterday over trade and national security while Clinton vowed to stay in the race. "I'm just getting warmed up," she said, even as Sen. Barack Obama's aides emphasized she won't be able to catch up in the delegate count. As the Los Angeles Timesemphasizes, there now seems to be general agreement that the only way Clinton will conceivably drop out is if she loses both Texas and Ohio, a prospect that is seen as highly unlikely.

The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxleads with Israel's withdrawal of its ground troops from the Gaza Strip. The move "lays bare" the difficult situation Israel faces as it tries to both weaken Hamas and continue peace talks with Palestinians in the West Bank. USA Todayleads with an interesting poll that shows one-third of Americans ask their doctors about a prescription drug they saw advertised. Of those who asked, 44 percent ended up with the drug they had inquired about, while 82 percent walked away with some sort of prescription. "Our survey shows why the drug companies run all these ads: They work," the president of the Kaiser Foundation said. The LAT leads with the price of oil, which briefly hit an inflation-adjusted record when it reached $103.95 a barrel yesterday. The previous record was set in April 1980, when, adjusted for inflation, oil reached $103.76 a barrel. The falling dollar is seen as a key culprit, and many expect oil prices to keep increasing as investors continue to seek protection in commodities.

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Motivated by a general feeling that her attacks against Obama are finally beginning to stick, Clinton continued on the offensive yesterday. The NYT is alone in giving front-page play to a new ad where Obama is criticized for not holding hearings as chairman of a Senate subcommittee that is in charge of overseeing NATO troops in Afghanistan (watch the ad here). NAFTA was also on the menu yesterday as Clinton's campaign pushed a newly released memo about a meeting one of Obama's senior advisers had with Canadian Consulate officials. The memo said Obama's talk on NAFTA should be seen "as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans." Obama had previously said that reports of a meeting between his adviser and Canadian officials were false, and yesterday the adviser said his words had been misinterpreted. The senator from Illinois said this was all part of Clinton's "kitchen sink strategy … three, four things a day. This is one of them. It doesn't, I think, change the facts." (Confused about this back-and-forth about an obscure memo? USAT has a good rundown that quickly explains how the story has progressed over the past few days.)

There seemed to be no shortage of material for Clinton's camp, which was also fortunate that Antoin Rezko went on trial this week, which forced Obama to answer questions about his relationship with the infamous Chicago developer. Obama insisted he has already made clear that carrying out a real-estate deal with Rezko was "a boneheaded move."

If there's one thing that stands out from today's campaign stories, it is that contrary to the general gloom-and-doom attitude that had been evident in the papers over the past few days, the overall theme today seems to be that Clinton could surprise and score another comeback. It could be an eagerness to continue the horse race, but as Dana Milbank (who last week openly mocked the Clinton campaign and said her aides "have resorted to a mixture of surreal happy talk and angry accusation") points out, the press went on the offensive yesterday, which appeared to catch Obama off guard. "The lumbering beast that is the press corps finally roused itself from its slumber Monday and greeted Barack Obama with a menacing growl," writes Milbank.

Still, the papers recognize that even if Clinton wins a majority of the 370 pledged delegates that are at stake today (and remember that, particularly in Texas, she could win the popular vote but lose in the delegate race), it will be difficult for her to cut into Obama's lead. In a particularly insightful edition of his now-famous "8 Questions That Today's Primaries Could Answer," the Post's Dan Balz is clear: "There is virtually no realistic way for Clinton to emerge from the primary-caucus season with more pledged delegates than Obama."  But any outcome besides a clear loss will probably keep Clinton in the race, particularly since she's seen as having an advantage in Pennsylvania, where voters will go to the polls on April 22.

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Despite all the pundit talk about Clinton dropping out, she would have a good basis of support from the voters to stay in the race. A new WP poll reveals that a mere 29 percent of Democratic voters think Clinton should leave the race if she wins one of the two big states at stake, although 51 percent think she should call it quits if she loses both Texas and Ohio.

It might be easy to forget thanks to the attention-hogging Democrats, but Republicans will also vote today, and some think it'll finally mark the end of Mike Huckabee's candidacy. If McCain wins by a wide margin in Texas and Ohio, it might give him enough delegates to officially claim the nomination, which the NYT thinks could be possible when superdelegates are factored into the math. Even if the numbers don't add up, some Republican strategists think Huckabee will drop out. "The Huck will suspend after Texas," predicted one. "He's tired of being the star forward of the Washington Generals against the McCain Globetrotters."

The NYT fronts, and everyone goes inside with, Hamas quickly declaring victory after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as militants continued launching rockets into the Jewish state. The NYT emphasizes that it looks like Hamas is taking on tactics that are typical of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which was clear yesterday when the Hamas leader vowed to reconstruct homes that were damaged by the Israeli strikes. The parallels aren't lost on Israeli officials, who say they are convinced that Hezbollah is helping Hamas with "training and logistical support." But the LAT says there's a growing debate inside Gaza about the wisdom of continuing the rocket attacks into Israel, which some see as a way for Hamas to maintain its support among Palestinians by continually provoking Israel.

The WP and NYT go inside with news that charges were dropped against two former high-ranking Shiite government officials accused of running death squads  in Iraq. The move once again raises questions about the independence of Iraq's judiciary and whether the government would ever be able to hold Shiites accountable for perpetrating sectarian violence.

The NYT fronts word that Love and Consequences, a memoir by Margaret B. Jones that received rave reviews, was all made up. The author of the work is really Margaret Seltzer, and she confessed to the NYT in a "sometimes tearful, often contrite" telephone interview. Instead of a half-white, half-Native American who was raised by a black foster mother in a tough neighborhood of Los Angeles and sold drugs for the Bloods gang, Seltzer is a white woman who was raised by her biological family in a well-off area of San Fernando Valley and went to an exclusive private school. The story began unfolding when her sister saw a profile of "Jones" in the NYT (which apparently didn't check any of her claims) last week and alerted the publisher. Seltzer admits she made a mistake but emphasized the book was based on real experiences of her friends, and she said she wrote it while "sitting at the Starbucks" in South Central Los Angeles, where "I would talk to kids who were Black Panthers and kids who were gang members and kids who were not."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.