After a shocking third-place finish in Iowa, Clinton bounced back in New Hampshire. Despite early stumbles, she won the big Super Tuesday battlegrounds of California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. But Obama's dominance in lesser-populated caucus states left the candidates virtually tied on the evening of Feb. 5.
"They underestimated how technically proficient the Obama campaign would be in caucus states," said Jim Jordan, who managed John Kerry's presidential bid early in the 2004 cycle. "Obama had real hard-core enthusiasm — her support may have been bigger, but his was more intense."
The three weeks after Super Tuesday essentially sealed Clinton's fate.
Obama dumped vast organizing resources into states and territories that never appeared likely to play a major role in the nominating process. He reeled off 11 straight convincing victories, from Louisiana and Virginia to Wisconsin and Washington State.
Almost by default, Clinton kept her focus on the next big prizes — Ohio and Texas, which voted March 4. But Obama padded his delegate lead by 121 in the month between Feb. 5 and those contests — a gap that proved impossible to overcome, and that drove news coverage that began depicting Obama — not Clinton — as the inevitable nominee.
Clinton loyalists — including Ickes — also supported the Democratic National Committee's 2007 decision to punish Florida and Michigan for holding too-early contests by stripping the states of their convention delegates.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Clinton focused much of her energy in a last-ditch effort to reverse that decision, though a panel of party insiders would up awarding the two rogue states just half of their original delegate strength.
Yet if Michigan and Florida had counted from the start the race would have looked far different — in delegates, in the popular vote, and in the intangible quality of early momentum.
Instead, Clinton was left vainly arguing that the popular vote should determine the nomination — even though, as her campaign always knew, the nomination is settled by the delegate count.
4. WILD BILL
Early concerns about Bill Clinton's role in the campaign centered on whether he would overshadow his wife. That turned out to be the least of the campaign's problems.
Hillary Clinton would be forced to grapple continually with the mixed political legacy of her husband — on issues of trade and gay rights, for example, where the party's left has long been disappointed in the Clintons. The memories of the scandals of the 1990s were never far off-stage, and her husband's lucrative speaking career and secret donors for the Clinton foundation kept unwelcome questions emerging.
Then there was Bill himself.
An aggressive advocate for his wife, he first hit the trail last summer and was essentially a full-time campaign presence by the height of the political season.
He developed into an effective surrogate for his wife's campaign, particularly in rural areas. But he quickly proved to be a double-edged sword — and the one surrogate who simply could not be controlled by the campaign.
Through a series of angry exchanges with voters and reporters, the bad side of Bill Clinton became evident — in a news environment that had changed drastically in its speed and viciousness in just the eight short years since the Clintons left the White House.