A RISING BARACK OBAMA had been furiously racing the clock these past two weeks. His rival was time, not Hillary Clinton. The more voters saw him, the stronger he got. The more they saw Clinton, the more she withered.
The buzzer sounded Tuesday night and the scorecard was clear: Obama had accumulated sufficient momentum to catch up and deadlock with Clinton, but not quite enough to overtake her. Super Tuesday is a split decision — with Obama winning on points.
And I don't think that's spin. As we go to press, there's still no firm total on the all-important delegate split, but by most counts, Obama comes out a handful or two ahead of Clinton.
Add that to his winning 13, or 14, of the 23 contests and mix in the notion that as of a few weeks ago, conventional wisdom held that Clinton would clinch the nomination Tuesday night, and you come up with a rather remarkable, if not historic, political story.
Yes, Clinton hung on to the delegate-fat strongholds of New York, New Jersey and California, and she took Massachusetts against the will of the Kennedys, who support her rival. But like a thundering herd, Obama's campaign swept down through the Rockies and into the heartland, scooping up Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois and the bellwether battleground of Missouri. Obama also scored victories in the Southern states of Alabama and Georgia. And he knocked Clinton out where she had been favored in Connecticut. In most states, he got as many white voters as Clinton. He won huge majorities among age groups shy of gray hair; he picked up ground among Latinos, reduced Clinton to Republican-like numbers among the most reliable of all Democratic constituencies — African-Americans. The wife of America's “first black president” did about as well as Bob Dole did, winning a scant 11 percent of black voters.
In short, Obama demonstrated that he has the crossover appeal, the ability to win independents, disillusioned Republicans, and newly inspired young voters whom Clinton leaves cold (or whom she galvanizes against her).
Trench warfare will mark the next number of weeks as the two Democratic campaigns battle delegate by delegate through a thicket of primaries that nobody ever thought would count. And that calendar also favors Obama. Next up are Nebraska, Louisiana and Washington, all of them caucus states, precisely Obama's forte. From there it's on to the so-called Potomac primary of D.C., Virginia and Maryland, also ripe for picking by Obama.
He goes into those fights flush with more than $30 million he raised in January, with an equal amount expected to come in this month, since most of his nearly 700,000 contributors — unlike Clinton's — have not yet maxed out on federal limits.
More importantly, with the calendar slowing down, time is now on Obama's side. He can focus intensely on each individual arena, not having to spread himself thin as he did in this week's nearly two dozen contests. In almost every single state where he's had the time to woo the voters, his magic has worked.
Clinton, meanwhile, will have to figure out a new way to present herself to the remaining voters. Rolling out the seemingly uncontrollable Big Dawg to blunt Obama's continuing momentum appears too risky. Put the growling Bill back on the trail to slime Obama, and Hillary could wind up in single digits among black voters. One sign of desperation on her side was her statement on Election Day that she wanted a debate a week with Obama: Front-runners avoid excessive debating, they don't ask for more.
Bottom Line: Obama remains the object in motion.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot the Republicans. Sorry. By the time you read this, it's a pretty good bet that Romney will have officially packed it in. He pretty much got battered off the field Tuesday night by a dominant John McCain, who has staged a striking political comeback and is now the virtual Republican nominee. A dominant McCain, that is, except in the South, which the near-penniless Mike Huckabee locked up.
Unless Johnny Mack marries Huckabee, the South might very well secede from the GOP by November. A Mack-Huck ticket? Millions of Democrats are dreaming of it.