She’s already issued a vague denial, but when a Republican strategist threw out the speculation that Condoleeza Rice was seriously considering running as McCain’s VP the media went into a spin. As if this race didn’t already look like a Benetton ad, the Hollywoodesque possibilities of a black woman running on the Republican ticket was enough to make the media dribble. Condi says she’s only technically on leave from Standford University and that she intends to go back after her stint with the Bush administration expires — but that hasn’t stopped the speculation.

Run Condi run!: Oh please oh please oh please. I know it’s undignified to beg, but please let John McCain pick Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. I know that this campaign has already bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon those of us who are paid to watch and listen. With its vivid, compelling characters, its abrupt reversals of fortune and its ever-rising stakes, the presidential contest has been the best reality show on television. It seems almost greedy to hope for yet another infusion of star power so late in the season. And yes, I’m aware that it probably won’t happen. Then again, this campaign hasn’t shown much regard for probability. — Eugene Robinson, RealClearPolitics

Spending the little folks’ cash: Penn is this year’s glaring example of a problem that has dogged American politics for years: the runaway costs of campaign consultants. But at a time when both Democratic presidential campaigns are boasting about riding a tide of small-dollar donations from everyday folks, out-of-control consultant fees seem to be an even more egregious waste of cash, undermining rhetorical claims that every supporter’s dollars count. …Consultants typically take a percentage of the money a candidate spends on whatever service it is they provide. Media consultants make more whenever they convince their clients they need to cut another ad, pollsters make a profit on each survey, and so on. Penn’s counterpart as chief strategist on Barack Obama’s campaign, David Axelrod, has seen at least $1.2 million paid to his Chicago-based firm, where David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, was a partner until he left to go work for the campaign. (Plouffe makes $12,000 a month in salary.) Obama has paid his chief pollster, Joel Benenson, $635,000 so far. Bob Shrum made at least $6 million for not getting John Kerry elected president four years ago. Raise your hand if you think you could have accomplished the same job for less. — Salon 

McCain’s money: John McCain raised $15 million in March. Hillary Clinton raised $20 million and Barack Obama raised over $40 million in the same month. As Marc Ambinder reports, the McCain campaign raised only $4 million online and through direct mail. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has over 1.3 million donors, a number that will surely increase if he wins the Democratic nomination. So far, McCain has caught a lucky break. Despite her best efforts to win the nomination, Hillary Clinton has become a stalking horse for conservatives who hope to highlight Obama’s not inconsiderable weaknesses. At this point, every cent spent she spends can be added to McCain’s fundraising haul. — The Atlantic

Why they stuck with Penn: Ask any member of Team Hillary what has bound Penn to the Clintons, and you’ll receive a mini-history lesson on the myriad trials he has seen them through, starting with Bill’s 1996 reelection. In the wake of the disastrous 1994 midterms, Penn and then-partner Doug Schoen were quietly brought into the White House by Dick Morris to help with some course correction in advance of the race. As one former Clintonite and Penn defender explains it, the president, having been pulled too far toward the big-government, lefty populism of some early advisers, was searching for a way back to the center, and the right-leaning Penn helped Clinton telegraph centrist values to the public and sell voters on policy ideas both large (welfare reform, balanced budgets) and small (school uniforms). — Michelle Cottle, The New Republic

Resist the urge to leave Iraq: One of the unfortunate consequences of the recent offensive in Basra is that when Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker appear before Congress today and Wednesday, their charts will show an uptick in Iraq’s violence last month. But that is an anomaly. Violence has already dropped back to pre-March levels, and Iraq is demonstrably more peaceful now than it was before the surge. Civilian deaths are down more than 80% and American deaths are down more than 60% since December 2006. — Max Boot, The LA Times