When you've spent 35 years getting ready for Day One, why not spend the rest of the 36th year (and even what might be the last 12 days of your campaign) continuing to talk about it?
The Texas showdown wasn't quite another California lovefest, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton brought out no new major messages or attacks. The internal debate seems settled: There will not be a dramatic new appeal by the candidate we were once told everybody heard of but nobody knew.
She kept up her general argument (experience matters) and one specific critique (Obama = Xerox) but kept acting like Sen. Barack Obama was her friendly, talented (if sometimes naughty -- copying off your friends!) little brother, and not an extremely serious threat to her political existence.
After losing 11 straight contests (and with polls tight in her two must-win states) she needed something game-changing in Thursday night's debate, with only that and an Ohio debate Tuesday standing out as big dates before March 4. It's hard to argue that she got what she was looking for.
"Was that a white flag waving over Texas?" AP's Ron Fournier writes. "Clinton ducked several chances to criticize Obama and repeatedly went out of her way to stress similarities in her next-to-last chance to corner the front-runner in a debate before Ohio and Texas vote."
ABC's Kate Snow writes that even after Clinton clamored for more debates, "she did not use the opportunity to strike a game-changing blow. And it was her final comment of the night -- after an hour and 40 minutes of debate -- that drew the biggest response."
That moment probably was the closest approximation of her poignant New Hampshire scene since her eyes started welling up in that diner on primary-eve. "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country," Clinton said, in an exchange that was quickly YouTubed and fashioned into a fund-raising appeal.
(And she closed with a clever zinger: "We're going to be fine. . . . I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people.")
But, writes Snow: "Given the tight nomination battle she finds herself in, some may read that comment as a poignant admission that she may not end up as the party's nominee." Said ABC's George Stephanopoulos, unless she turns things around fast, "That almost felt like the first draft of a concession speech."
Could her "no matter what happens" line have been a signal that she's willing to let March 4 settle this thing out -- that, if she loses one of her two must-wins, she won't split the party in a summer-long delegate battle?
"Clinton seemed to surrender, graciously," The Nation's John Nichols writes.
Asked about the exchange Friday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America," Clinton told Diane Sawyer, "I intend to win. . . . For us, it's not so much about what happens to each of us individually, but it's what happens to the people I see every day."
A few other nuggets from the interview: Clinton said she wouldn't buy into her husband's contention that Ohio and Texas are must-wins: "I don't make predictions." She said she has had "conversations" with former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., over the past few weeks. And she forget to check www.delegatehub.com -- she put the magic delegate number at 2,025, not the 2,208 the Clinton campaign is saying it is (if Michigan and Florida count).