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'Commencement Challenge' Becomes PR Challenge for Obama

As we reported here last month, the White House was having trouble getting high schools to submit their applications for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, in which the grand prize is a graduation speech by President Obama. So the White House made the contest a little less burdensome and extended the deadline two weeks, to March 11. At the time, the White House wouldn't say how many applications had been received.

And they still aren't saying, officially.

Yesterday, CBS News' Political Hotsheet reported that the number of applications came in embarrassingly low: 14, at less than a week before the original deadline. As of Feb. 28, 68 schools had applied. This item is, as of 4:44 p.m. today, the most viewed story on cbsnews.com.

This certainly doesn't look good for the Obama administration.

And today, reporters elevated the issue even further, asking about it during the daily White House press briefing with press secretary Jay Carney. In fact, it was the fifth question...coming only after questions about Libya!

Here's the exchange:

Q: Can I follow up on that education question? CBS is reporting that the Commencement Challenge is not going as well as perhaps expected, and certainly not as well as the last time. Is that an embarrassment given all the attention that the President is giving to education?

MR. CARNEY: I would just say that the Commencement Challenge last year was a fantastic process that led to a terrific event that showcased a school in Kalamazoo, and we expect the same to happen this time. We have a large number of applicants and we look forward to a process that will produce a winner and a commencement speech from the President.

Q: Can you tell us how many applicants you have at this point?

MR. CARNEY: I don't know that. I'm sorry.

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