Bernie Sanders' motorcade raced up 17th Street Thursday past the White House and stopped. His traveling press corps was in a van slightly ahead of him and kept driving. "Did he get out?" some passers-by shouted.
Sanders was early to his high-profile meeting with President Barack Obama, and, as his staff said later, he did not want to "twiddle his thumbs" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So, the Vermont Senator decided to pull over for a coffee and scone -- a reminder that he could and would call some of his own shots.
Though Sanders did not formally bow out of the presidential race Thursday, the day in many ways felt like the end -- or perhaps the beginning of the next step for him.
It was presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s big day, with landmark endorsements back-to-back from President Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden -- but the press was chasing Sanders through the nation's capital. Garnering this much attention was a nod to the fact he has become a major player in politics in the country.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said the day demonstrated Sanders' new found national strength. "He will be a national player going forward, and his meeting with the President and others demonstrates that," Dowd said. "He has a constituency and a message that isn't going away even when he endorses Hillary, and it sends the message the major national players in this cycle are Hillary, Sanders and the President -- each with their own constituency and unique power."
Dowd added that this trio illustrates that the Democrats will be "a group to contend with" in November.
Still, it was clear that the sun had set on Sanders’ campaign for the nomination. At his evening rally, at the RFK Stadium in the southeast part of the city, the sun literally set behind him. Some in the crowd chanted, "Stay in the race!" but after shaking some hands, Sanders went behind the stage and took a big group photo with staff. It was emotional for a lot of them. There were hugs and goodbyes. Even his surrogates talked about carrying on a "vision" and "movement," not a bid for the White House.
Throughout the day, Sanders seemed determined to enjoy the moments he could, and avoid the press at all stops. He walked arm-and-arm with his wife Jane on the White House South Lawn before walking with the President, at the White House’s suggestion, along the famed colonnade for a photo opportunity and more fresh air.
Some of Sanders' top campaign staff seemed resigned to the state of things. They knew that both the Obama and Warren endorsements were coming. Campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs said he was grateful the White House gave them "the courtesy" of not dropping the President's Clinton endorsement video until after the Oval Office meeting, and added that the White House had been "really classy" with Sanders and his campaign in planning the logistics of Thursday's meeting.
At the Naval Observatory, the senator and his wife enjoyed a second stroll in the sun, out of the view of the cameras, before the Vice President arrived. Sanders met with Joe Biden for almost an hour and half, though the meeting was just finalized Thursday, according to the campaign.
Leaving Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office, first Jane, Briggs and Sanders’ body man walked out of one door like a decoy, while the senator slipped out another behind the press and headed to his meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer. Sanders managed not to answer one question from reporters all day.
There were other basic logistics to attend during the whirlwind 12 hours. Where to eat when the senator is hungry is a question more easily answered with campaign advance staff around. Today, it was Briggs and a staffer with Senator Schumer's office who ran over to the Senators' dining hall to see if it was still open, knowing anywhere else more public would be a mob scene.
It was a testament to the moment to see the attention the press and city gave to the day. The crowd of reporters at the White House and in every hallway on Capitol Hill was a sign of the importance of the meetings taking place and the excitement and intrigue Sanders now brings.
"I feel Bernie is in a good place with my caucus, and I feel that he is in a good place with the country," Reid said, after speaking highly of the senator.
Sanders will spend the weekend back home in Burlington, Vermont, meeting with friends and advisers and sorting through his options.