RALEIGH, NC -- Hillary Clinton may not have reached the end of her presidential campaign last night, but the end is now surely within staggering distance.
With the final results still trickling in as of this writing, Obama was assured of a blowout double digit win here in the Tar Heel State, while Clinton barely squeaked by in Indiana. Her victory margin was so slim that she couldn't be declared the winner until the wee hours this morning.
From a mathematical perspective, yesterday's results have enabled Obama to essentially wipe out the delegate and popular vote gains Clinton made in her big Pennsylvania win two weeks ago.
Obama not only has an insurmountable lead over Clinton in the pledged delegate race, but he still leads in the popular vote even if one were to include Michigan (where he wasn't even on the ballot) and Florida, while excluding several caucus states that he won.
CLINTON MAY BE HOPING big victories in West Virginia and Kentucky will boost her popular vote total, but with Obama likely to win Oregon, South Dakota, and Montana, any such gains will prove ephemeral.
Just as a basketball team trailing by 20 points toward the end of the fourth quarter cannot afford to trade baskets with its opponent, Clinton cannot hope to recover from the split decision that she had yesterday, followed by splits in the six remaining contests.
From a symbolic perspective, the fact that there are no huge states left for Clinton to win will make it more difficult to manipulate news coverage going forward.
For more than two months, Clinton was able to use victories in the large states of Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania to remain relevant. Last night, she blew her last chance to uproot the media narrative of her campaign.
Victories in West Virginia, Kentucky, and the electoral vote-less Puerto Rico, simply won't shake up the race.
IN OBAMA'S VICTORY SPEECH here last night, the freshman Senator from Illinois shifted his message toward the general election. Rather than go after Clinton, he used the opportunity to call for party unity and direct sharp barbs at John McCain.
"Tonight, many of the pundits have suggested that this party is inalterably divided, that Senator Clinton's supporters will not support me and that my supporters would not support her," Obama declared. "Well, I am here tonight to tell you that I don't believe it."
Obama's supporters left the rally convinced that he had essentially wrapped up the nomination.
Warren Coleman, who came in from Miami to help out with the campaign for a week, when asked whether he could support Clinton were the superdelegates to give her the nomination, shot back, "That wouldn't happen, that can't happen."
A group of Obama volunteers from Chapel Hill who had spent the day canvassing thought it was time for Clinton to fold up her tent.
"I think for the best of the party she needs to drop out," said one of them, Michael Meng, citing the near mathematical impossibility of her overtaking Obama in any metric.
Elizabeth Gritter predicted, "I think this has sealed his presidential nomination, I really do."
CLINTON IS UNLIKELY to drop out imminently, because she is a Clinton. But last night's Hillary showed a lot less fight than the one who came out swinging after the victory in Pennsylvania.
Bill, who did a marathon of nine events on Monday in North Carolina to no avail, could be seen behind Hillary, wearing defeat all over his face.
She'll still fight for Florida and Michigan to be seated, and make the pitch to superdelegates that only she can win the big important states, but Obama will quietly inch closer to the nomination in the coming weeks.
Obama's inability to close the deal against Clinton -- in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Indiana -- suggest potential weaknesses for him a general election, especially among working class voters.
The protracted primary season knocked off Obama's halo. Though his victory in North Carolina was impressive, it was nothing compared with the staggering margins he racked up in neighboring Virginia and South Carolina earlier in the race.
But the general election is a whole new battle, and anybody who still thinks that Obama cannot take a punch, needs to ask himself why a such a political novice is on the verge of taking down the once-indomitable Clinton machine.
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