Fear not: The race is still very much alive -- for vice president.
Sen. Barack Obama can rightly claim a (pseudo-)victory on Tuesday, but if Kentucky comes in like we expect, it may not be a pretty sight.
If Obama backs into the nomination on a losing streak, then stares down a general election with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backers angry and disillusioned -- and, critically, if Clinton really wants the No. 2 job -- would he be able to give it to someone else?
If Clinton really does covet a spot on Obama's ticket, what better way for her to earn it than by closing out strong?
(And now that Clinton sees her campaign as a quest to beat back sexism, how can she end it until the end itself?)
Tuesday figures to again bring the extraordinary spectacle of the all-but certain nominee getting his hide handed to him by a candidate with little realistic chance of winning the nomination. Clinton, D-N.Y., is the overwhelming favorite in Kentucky, with Obama, D-Ill., enjoying a smaller edge in Oregon.
Yet the optics won't match the returns, and try unpacking this: After another week where Clinton is/isn't attacking her rival, Obama will/won't declare victory Tuesday in Iowa -- and then the candidates head to Florida Wednesday, a state that has/hasn't already voted (and they have very different motivations for being there).
Polls opened at 6 am ET in Kentucky and close at 7 pm ET, with 51 pledged delegates at stake. "If anything, the battle between Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York only intensified," Joseph Gerth writes in the Louisville Courier-Journal overview.
Oregon will make it a late night: Voting is by mail, and ballots must be deposited by 11 pm ET; 52 pledged delegates will be awarded Tuesday. "An election-day voter stampede is expected to propel Oregon's highest primary turnout in 20 years, state officials projected Monday," Amy Hsuan writes for The Oregonian.
Obama enters the day needing 18 delegates to clinch the majority of pledged delegates; his magic number for the 2,026 needed for the nomination shrinks to 111 with the endorsement of Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan, per ABC's delegate scorecard -- not going to happen Tuesday, barring a flood of supers.
This is fragile (and potentially flammable) stuff: Obama and Clinton are pushing alternate takes on who's winning and who's best-positioned to win, and are continuing to appeal to different segments of the party. Yet they both know the calendar and the math, and know that whether or not Obama wants Clinton on his ticket, he'll need her (and her supporters) once he secures the nomination -- and fast.
"The situation is delicate," Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy write in The New York Times. "Mr. Obama does not want to appear as if he is pushing Mrs. Clinton out of the race, preferring instead to treat her gracefully as a worthy Democratic fighter, not as a stubborn nemesis."
It's settled: Despite some mixed signals, Obama won't be saying he's won the nomination when he speaks in Iowa Tuesday night to commemorate the nice-sounding but ultimately meaningless threshold of clinching the pledged delegate race. And Clinton won't be saying too many things that reflect poorly on the man basically everyone knows will be the Democratic nominee.