The Clinton era in Democratic politics comes to an end on Tuesday -- and the only question left is how Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton chooses to acknowledge it.
Five months to the day after the voting started back in the snow of Iowa, a late spring day in the unlikely venues of Montana and South Dakota close it out -- with a little help from a final burst of superdelegates.
Sen. Barack Obama -- minus one church, plus one flag pin, and on the cusp of history -- stands as of Tuesday morning just 36 delegates away from capturing the nomination, per ABC's count. With the last two contests (the 55th and 56th states or territories to vote, if you're counting) likely to provide roughly half that total, we're counting down for a final two dozen to drop.
"It is going to happen," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "He will declare victory tonight. It will be a moment of history. . . . The real debate [for Clinton] is going to come down to, do you suspend, or do you get out? They might try to have it both ways."
Clinton won't step aside until Wednesday at the earliest (though her voice gave out before she did Monday, at her last event in a primary state).
If all goes as Obama plans, he'll have what he needs by the time polls close at 10 pm ET in Montana -- allowing voters to put him over 2,118, while he speaks from St. Paul, Minn., the soon-to-be site of the Republican National Convention.
"Sensing an opportunity to shut down the nominating contest, Obama campaign advisers said that they were orchestrating an endorsement of Mr. Obama by at least eight Senate and House members who had pledged to remain uncommitted until the primaries ended, and that the endorsements would come the moment the South Dakota polls closed on Tuesday night," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.
"The group will be led by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who on Monday met with three other uncommitted Democratic senators -- Ken Salazar of Colorado, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland -- at the offices of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in what Mr. Salazar called a unity session," Nagourney writes. "The most likely situation, some of Mrs. Clinton's aides said, was that she would suspend her campaign later in the week and would probably -- though not definitely -- endorse Mr. Obama."
Then, it's all over but the pouting -- and don't expect much of that, not from a campaign that's starting to slow down, or from a candidate whose political interest now lies with a clean end followed by full-throated support.
They can call it a celebration in New York City Tuesday night, but it's looking more like a commemoration -- of a historic campaign, of a remarkable candidate, and of one of the more endurable legacies in the Democratic Party's history.
Advance staffers are being summoned to New York -- or allowed to go home. The Hillraisers have been invited as well -- a last round of hugs and thank-yous. A Wednesday AIPAC speech in Washington is the only major event still on Clinton's schedule; one Clinton fundraiser said a move out of the race could happen any time after that, in part because she doesn't want to appear before a forum of strong supporters as a former candidate.
"For those reading the tea leaves, there are strong signs the Clinton campaign may be preparing for the end," ABC's Kate Snow and Sarah Amos report.