Trail mix / Campaign notes

He might've sung, 'She's got friends in looow places...'

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When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton knocked back a shot of Crown Royal whiskey in Indiana the other day, she apparently raised the bar -- so to speak -- for voters who prefer a candidate with whom they'd like to have a beer.

A student at Villanova University, over on the other side of the state, yesterday ponied up to the microphone during a question-and-answer session with Sen. John McCain on "Hardball," hosted by Chris Matthews, and asked:

"I was wondering if you think that she's finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling. And I was also wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this?"

Hoots and hollers came from the audience. Mr. McCain laughed, too.

"I did not see the clip of it, but I certainly heard about it, and whatever makes Sen. Clinton happy is ... is certainly, uh, certainly ..." Mr. McCain said with a broad smile, chuckling and raising his eyebrows.

Another student raised Democrat Barack Obama's comment about his grandmother being "a typical white person" and asked Mr. McCain: "Would you characterize yourself, as Barack Obama would phrase it, as a typical white person?"

Mr. McCain paused and praised Mr. Obama's recent "excellent" speech on race, saying "it was good for all of America to have heard it."

"I can't comment directly as to how I portray myself," the likely Republican presidential nominee said. "So I'm sorry if I basically ducked the question, but I want to say that I think Americans, all Americans, want a respectful campaign."

Mr. McCain said they were "two of the best questions, or the toughest questions that I have ever had."

Which probably means he needed a good belt afterward.

News from interviewers interviewing interviewers

Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," gets good guests on his show. The other night (however) his guest was the aforementioned Mr. Matthews.

Mr. Matthews, a native of Philadelphia, was talking about what he had wanted to be growing up.

"Some kids wanted to be a fireman," Mr. Matthews said. "I want to be a senator."

"That's an announcement," Mr. Colbert shrieked.

"There's a difference between being a celebrity and somebody who works for the people," Mr. Matthews said. "And it's a greater thing to work for the people than to be on television."

With a depth and perspective such as that, it's hard to imagine anything stopping him.

Don't they know the Pens are playing?

Hey, you know what's been missing from this long and historic and long stretch leading up to the long-awaited Pennsylvania primary?

A debate! All those other states had debates before their primaries. Why don't we have one?

OK, we will

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama will appear tonight at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for their first debate in nearly two months, which will be televised nationally on ABC.

This will be your chance to finally hear what the two Democratic candidates think about the issues of the day.

So that's why he can rebound from controversy

Did you know Mr. Obama loves basketball? Yep, in fact, he was a member of Hawaii's championship high school basketball team in 1979. And he still plays on the campaign trail, going up against Secret Service agents, who apparently were trained in a different kind of shooting.

In an interview aired last night on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," Mr. Obama said his strength as a youth wasn't his jump shot, but getting around defenders. "My actual talent was in my first step," he said. "I could get to the rim on anybody."

Mr. Obama also said basketball offered him a chance to identify racially in Hawaii, a state without a large black population.

"Here is a place where being black was not a disadvantage," he said. "Here was a sport in which we were dominant. All those things, I think, contributed to the idea that there's something special about this."

He went on to say basketball "connects up with the African-American experience in a special way. Almost in the same way that jazz music connects up with African-American culture. There's an aspect of improvisation within a discipline that, that I find very, very powerful."

Could he beat President Bush in a game of one-on-one?

"You know, he looks like a pretty good athlete; he takes that mountain biking seriously," he said. "But I'm pretty certain I can take him."

Tell us something about the latest polls

All right, if you insist, here's some polling news.

The latest Gallup Poll shows that Mr. Obama has an 11-point lead nationally over Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, 51 percent to 40 percent.

The latest LATimes/Bloomberg poll shows Mr. Obama ahead 40 percent to 35 percent in Indiana, which holds its primary in three weeks.

In North Carolina, Mr. Obama is running 13 points ahead. Among blacks there, 71 percent supported Mr. Obama, and only 5 percent backed Mrs. Clinton. The other 24 percent said they were undecided, which probably means they'll vote for Mr. Obama, but they didn't want to tell the pollsters.

Here's an interesting stat from the national polls: Thirty percent of Mrs. Clinton supporters said they would switch to Mr. McCain if Mr. Obama is the nominee, while only 14 percent of Mr. Obama's backers would defect if Mrs. Clinton was the nominee.


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