There must be very little joy in Hillary-land this morning -- the once-mighty campaign struck out Tuesday night, and now the only question being asked in the media isn't how Clinton can win the Democratic nomination but when she'll bow to what now seems inevitable and get out of the race.
Clinton needed something big to happen on Tuesday -- she needed to get the fabled "game-changer," something that would convince superdelegates that Barack Obama's momentum had stalled, that despite his lead he was too damaged by a string of negative stories, that for the good of the party she should be the Democratic nominee. She needed to move within striking distance. What she got was a trouncing in North Carolina and a photo-finish victory in Indiana, where she'd long been favored to win.
So late Tuesday night and early Wednesday the drumbeat began. A powerful union that's already backing Obama labeled him "the presumptive presidential nominee." Tim Russert told his viewers, "We now know who the Democratic nominee's gonna be." That moment -- video of which is viewable at the bottom of this post -- prompted the Drudge Report to post a big headline declaring Obama "THE NOMINEE." An unnamed "senior Clinton official" went off to tell reporters at the Washington Post, "Absent some sort of miracle ... it's going to be tough for us. We lost this thing in February. We're doing everything we can now ... but it's just an uphill battle."
Elsewhere, the New York Times' Patrick Healy delivered what must be sobering news for Clinton supporters: The Clinton campaign, he said, "is deep in debt and believed to be near broke, and her advisers made the unusual move on Tuesday night of refusing to confirm or deny whether Mrs. Clinton had made a loan to her campaign to keep it afloat ... Even some of her most optimistic supporters were measured in their comments on Tuesday night about how well-positioned she was to stay in the race." Healy also found an unnamed "top fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton and longtime friend of [both Clintons]" who told him, "I wouldn't be surprised at all if a [Pennsylvania Gov. Ed] Rendell or a Vernon Jordan was prepared to weigh in with the Clintons, because the path to the nomination is just looking tougher for us. Many of us thought she had to win both Indiana and North Carolina."
In this race, it has been hard to say what's ultimately more important -- the actual numbers that say who's really ahead, and who's really behind, or the media narrative about the campaign. For Tuesday night at least, though, it wasn't just the narrative coming out of the night that will hurt Clinton; it's the numbers as well. She needed to cut Obama's lead, but he extended his advantage in pledged delegates and in the popular vote, and there's already talk that his campaign will be rolling out more superdelegates soon, if not today, and that some might even come out of her column.
For the moment, though, the Clinton campaign is still trying to put a happy face on the situation. It has continued to press its case for seating delegates from the disputed Michigan and Florida delegations, added another event to Clinton's schedule for Wednesday and is reportedly asking supporters and superdelegates to "take a deep breath" before doing anything drastic.