The question that is now astoundingly close to being the most urgent one in the presidential race: Does Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton see a distinction between the good of the Clintons, the good of the Democratic Party, and the good of the country?
On the night that Clinton needed a resounding victory, it was Sen. Barack Obama who emerged on top -- and, by bouncing back from the biggest challenge to his candidacy, went a long way toward answering the questions that had left him battered and bruised (not even counting what happened on the basketball court).
Clinton, D-N.Y., lost precious ground in delegates, votes, and momentum -- with margins that all-but wiped out her pick-ups from Pennsylvania two weeks ago. They both won a state, but Obama's was bigger, and was called far earlier; under the Wright-infused circumstances (and given the Clinton Campaign's intense late efforts) his margin in North Carolina was jaw-dropping, while hers in Indiana was jaw-clenching.
Obama, D-Ill., now needs only about 37 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination, per ABC's political unit -- and he holds a 164-delegate edge before the superdelegate movement we can almost certainly expect the day after his biggest campaign night in months.
"This nomination fight is over," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "More superdelegates will come out today for Barack Obama --they will come three, four, five at a time, and this nomination will be locked up. . . . People close to her say that she's more likely to stay in if she feels cornered in by the party leaders."
ABC News' Kate Snow confirmed this morning that Clinton made three new loans totaling nearly $6.5 million to her campaign over the last month, two of them following her win in Pennsylvania.
He's not a superdelegate, but this morning former Sen. George McGovern, an early Clinton backer, decided to endorse Obama's run -- urging the New York senator to abandon her presidential bid.
As the tough conversations begin inside Camp Clinton (Clinton Wednesday will be huddling privately to gauge the reaction of uncommitted superdelegates, in addition to a buck-up-the-troops, midday event in West Virginia), the candidate herself has to decide whether and how to make a last push -- with nothing less than the Clinton legacy in the Democratic Party at stake.
The Clinton campaign quickly labeled the night a "tie-breaker" -- except the campaign hasn't been tied since February, and things broke in Obama's direction.
"A split was not a draw," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "If anything, Mrs. Clinton's hopes for overtaking Senator Barack Obama dwindled further on Tuesday night. . . . The result was so tight as to deprive her of the kind of clear-cut victory that would make it easy for her to fend off calls for her to drop out, raise money and campaign on into West Virginia in advance of a primary there next Tuesday where her campaign is confident of doing well."
"Clinton officials were increasingly worried that superdelegates, absent some overwhelming new evidence to make the case for Clinton, would move toward Obama to put an end to a race that many are worried is harming their chances in the fall," Perry Bacon Jr. and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post.
Says a "senior Clinton official": "We lost this thing in February. We're doing everything we can now . . . but it's just an uphill battle."