Now that the cloak-and-dagger stuff has played out (how did she sneak out of her house for that secret meeting, anyway?), it's your party, Sen. Barack Obama. Will it include:
- A strong play for those he hasn't reached? (Yes.)
- Donations from lobbyists and PACs? (No -- mostly.) (Will that matter? No -- mostly.)
- A formidable general-election opponent? (Yes -- but one who feels like an underdog at the moment.)
- Actions by his opponent that will dial up blogospheric outrage? (Of course.)
- An ugly tape featuring an Obama saying something that shouldn't be said in public? (Doubtful -- though a dare could tempt fate.)
- A happy Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? (Another maybe.) (A happy former President Bill Clinton? No.)
- Months of veepstakes lobbying from those on the outskirts of Camp Clinton? (Certainly.)
- Choreographed moments that gloss over the dynamics of a split party? (Yes.)
- An ultimately happy party, including the half that voted for Clinton? (That depends.)
It's that last question that's most important to Obama's chances -- and that's why Clinton, D-N.Y., is the most powerful political force in the party at this (fleeting) moment.
Her actions over these next 72 hours could be the ballgame, key to whether the party comes together, whether she can or will make good on her commitment to working for Obama, and whether she has a political future in the Democratic Party (almost certainly yes).
"As her campaign lurched to an awkward close, Clinton had embraced a strikingly different role: a defiant insurgent, a spokeswoman for working-class voters who she said 'felt invisible,' an all-too-human candidate who defined the historic moment's central question as: 'What does Hillary Clinton want?' "Stephen Braun and Doyle McManus write in the Los Angeles Times.
"Now, after her own friends stepped in to nudge her to cede the spotlight to Obama, Clinton must change roles again, from tenacious underdog to presumably gracious loser," they write. "That transition could start Saturday, as Clinton holds a Washington event to thank her supporters and rally them around Obama."
If the handover is a process, not a proceeding, it's moving along. Obama and Clinton met Thursday night to chat privately about who-knows-what (an agreement to help on debt, perhaps?). But the symbolism spoke loudest -- even if those close to the senators can't agree exactly on asked for the private chat.
"Obama delayed a trip home to Chicago last night to visit Clinton at the Washington home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)," per The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray. "Coming just before Clinton's expected departure from the race, it was seen as a reconciliation gesture to the senator from New York and her millions of disappointed supporters."
Or: The meeting "was initiated by Mrs. Clinton after Mr. Obama spent the day in Virginia, a state symbolic of his efforts to expand the Democratic reach," Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.
"The senators instructed their aides not to disclose details of the meeting. They issued an unusual joint statement late Thursday, saying, 'Senator Clinton and Senator Obama met tonight and had a productive discussion about the important work that needs to be done to succeed in November.' " l