Obama gets closer; Kennedy is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

Obama gets closer; Kennedy is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

Obama gets closer; Kennedy is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 21 2008 6:26 AM

Are We There Yet?

Most of the papers lead with Sen. Barack Obama claiming a majority of pledged delegates after yesterday's primaries. Everything went pretty much according to predictions as Obama easily won in Oregon but was trounced by Clinton in Kentucky, where the former first lady won by 35 percentage points. Obama celebrated his victory with a rally in Iowa and told supporters that "you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination." The Washington Postpoints out that claiming the majority of delegates was Obama's way of sending "a not-so-subtle message to the remaining uncommitted superdelegates that if they now endorse Clinton, they will be going against the will of Democratic voters nationwide." But there seems to be little risk of that as Democratic leaders continue to flock to Obama. The Wall Street Journal points out that despite Obama's huge loss in West Virginia last week, he has gained support from 22 more superdelegates since then, compared with four who went Clinton's way.

Even as Obama all but declared victory yesterday, the New York Timesand USA Today highlight that exit polls from Kentucky emphasize the problems Obama will face as a general election candidate. Only one-third of Clinton voters in Kentucky said they would support Obama in November. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a more forward-looking analysis and says that with his three-day trip to Florida that begins today, "Obama begins his efforts to organize his way to victory in November." And there's no state that will provide a more "daunting" challenge than Florida, a crucial swing state that hasn't had much direct exposure to the senator from Illinois. Obama must now work overtime in Florida "to build his campaign machinery almost from scratch." The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox with, and everyone fronts, news that Sen. Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Kennedy's doctors said that tests performed after the senator from Massachusetts suffered a seizure on Saturday revealed that he has a malignant glioma on the left side of his brain.

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Obama was careful to praise Clinton during his victory speech and said that throughout the campaign she "has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age." But aside from a few complimentary words directed at Clinton, Obama's real focus was Sen. John McCain, whom he portrayed as a clone of President Bush. The Republican primary "was a contest to see which candidate could out-Bush the other, and that is the contest John McCain won," Obama said.

For her part, Clinton continued to insist she's the better candidate to face McCain and has no plans to drop out. "I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be," Clinton said. But, the Post's Dan Balz makes clear that "it would take a near-miraculous change in the Democratic race to alter the trajectory that Obama is on to clinch the nomination next month." Still, Obama is not quite there yet, and he may not be able to reach the finish line until the last primaries on June 3. Yesterday's primaries "didn't signal the end, but they did signal more than the beginning of the end," writes Slate's John Dickerson. "It's the intermission in the middle of the beginning of the end."

With all the signs pointing against her, why is Clinton staying in the race? The NYT takes a look at the question and notes that Clinton "has begun asserting that she believes sexism, rather than racism, has cast a shadow over the primary fight." Staying in the contest is her way of sending a message to supporters, particularly young women, "that she is not a quitter and will not be pushed around." Her advisers are also suggesting that by staying in the race she'll be better positioned to persuade Obama to take on some of her key policy initiatives. Ultimately though, Clinton knows from personal experience that anything can happen in politics, and if some sort of scandal were to break out, having more delegates would help her case if Democrats find themselves scrambling to find an alternative to Obama.

In other campaign-related news, the contenders reported their April fundraising totals. Obama's campaign reported that it had raised $31 million, while Clinton managed to gather $22 million. For his part, McCain raised $18 million, which may seem paltry compared with the Democrats, but it marked his best month yet.

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For all the differences in their victory speeches, both Obama and Clinton opened their speeches by invoking Kennedy. Doctors emphasized that the 76-year-old senator is in "good spirits and full of energy," but all the papers report that the prognosis for this type of cancer is poor, particularly for someone as old as Kennedy. The doctors were careful not to specify the size of the tumor or how advanced it is, but USAT emphasizes that the type of brain cancer Kennedy has "is considered incurable." The news was met with shock and disbelief by Kennedy's colleagues, and there was an immediate bipartisan outpouring of affection for the man who has been in the senate for 46 years. Robert Byrd, who is the only current senator to serve longer than Kennedy, shed tears on the Senate floor as he opened debate on the Iraq spending bill. "Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you and miss you," Byrd said.

Everyone talks to experts who say that it's likely Kennedy has the more malignant type of glioma that, on average, leads to death within 12 to 18 months. If he has the less aggressive type, the survival rate is typically two to four years. It's still not clear how Kennedy will be treated, but painful rounds of chemotherapy and radiation are almost definitely in his future, and they might help prolong his life. Both USAT and NYT point out that the fact that doctors don't seem to be discussing a surgical option suggests they are worried it could cause too much damage to the brain.

The papers report that thousands of Iraqi soldiers entered Sadr City and were met with no resistance from Shiite fighters. In a front-page analysis, the NYT says that as with what happened in Basra last month, it appears the Iraqi government has been successful at forcing the militias to stand down. It "was a hopeful accomplishment" in the stronghold of cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army, though everyone points out that it's unclear whether it will last. The NYT says the militias might "re-emerge," and the LAT notes Sadr's Mahdi Army could step up attacks once Iraqi troops "begin searching for weapons and detaining wanted fighters." So far, though, everyone is declaring it a success, particularly since the operation seems to have been almost entirely an Iraqi effort. The Iraqis "were able to execute a plan that was very much their own," says the NYT

The WP fronts, and the NYT reefers, a Justice Department report released yesterday that details how FBI agents repeatedly complained about tactics used to interrogate detainees in Guantanamo and other military facilities. The report suggests interrogators may have used harsh tactics before they were approved, and continued to use other techniques after they had been prohibited. Although most of the report's contents had already been disclosed, the NYT highlights that it revealed FBI agents were so concerned about the interrogation practices that they created a "war crimes file" to keep track of the accusations. Overall, the Justice Department's inspector general said there was much confusion regarding interrogation policies and there was no one set of clear rules that could be followed.

In the WP's op-ed page, James Andrew Miller writes that a good way to "foster party unity" among the Democrats after a bitterly long nomination fight could be for Obama to promise Clinton that he will appoint her to the Supreme Court if a justice decides to retire during his presidency. The contenders pretty much agree on every major issue, so it's likely that Obama would be pleased with Clinton's votes in the court. The move would also motivate her supporters to back Obama since she could play a much more consequential role in the country's future than if she were to be his vice president. "Clinton's gumption and determination might make her one of the most powerful forces ever on the court, particularly when it comes to swaying other justices when the court is closely divided."

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