There is no question that Barack Obama was the big loser Tuesday night. While John McCain and Hillary Clinton celebrated, Obama must be wondering if he'd just blown his chance at the presidency of the United States.
Tuesday was his opportunity to finish off Clinton, for good. All he needed was an undisputed victory in Texas -- that would've brought forth enormous pressure to get Hillary to fold up shop, or at least completely marginalized her campaign. But he lost, and with it, Clinton regained the initiative in the Democratic contest.
Yes, it's true. Don't be fooled by the numbers. They lie.
Obama can spin it all he wants that this is all about delegates. That he still has a mathematically insurmountable lead among pledged delegates. That he prevented Hillary from denting his lead by keeping it close in Texas. That all Hillary managed on Tuesday was gaining 10 more delegates than he did out of nearly 400 in play.
All true, but all meaningless now.
Hillary has the upperhand because she's winning the spin war. It's rather amazing how her campaign has managed the game of low expectations to such scintillating perfection. Three weeks ago, she had double-digit leads in both Ohio and Texas. Tuesday, she takes Ohio by 10 points and ekes out a close win in Texas; and suddenly, she's achieved this amazing "comeback" victory.
Not to mention until Tuesday, she'd lost 11 straight contests.
The fact that she's still in the race after such a losing streak was less a tribute to her tenacity but more of an indictment against Obama's lack of political instincts. A candidate on that sort of losing streak should've been kicked to the curb remorselessly like a piece of trash. A better frontrunner would've destroyed his opponent with a resounding coup de grace.
If you weren't paying attention, McCain did just that to Rudy Giuliani in Florida -- and Rudy had only lost three in a row up to that point.
Obama's inability to finish off Clinton will come back to haunt him, because he's now allowed the game to go on and armed Clinton with real ammunition. The only question is whether Obama will have the wherewithal to still win the nomination.
It comes down to spin. Obama has the numbers on his side. But Hillary has a more compelling storyline.
She now has won six of the eight states with the biggest electoral haul -- California, New York, Texas, Florida*, Ohio and Michigan*. She'll fight hard to remove the asterisks from Florida and Michigan. And as the prohibitive favorite to win Pennsylvania on April 22, she should make it seven of eight, with Obama claiming only his home state of Illinois.
Clinton also has fared better in those battleground states that will become crucial in November. Of the seven states decided by 3 percentage points or less during the 2004 election, she's won four -- New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio and Nevada -- with Pennsylvania still to come. She can rightfully argue that she has a better chance to capture these "purple" states.
If Obama has a counter argument, he'd better hone it and bring it out now. And "I'm leading the race for delegates" won't do.
Obama has to roll up his sleeves and get ready to fight a dirty war. His days as a political prince are over. He's had the "kitchen sink" thrown at him and he's been wounded. His task now is to throw stuff back at the Clintons like he means it.
And he should also forget about McCain, at least for the moment. Just like playing sports, you don't talk about the next opponent when you haven't beaten the one you have on hand.
In any event, he's up against it now. A grueling battle, sure to culminate in a cauldron of acrimony and recrimination, will go on until August at the Democratic Convention. That's a price Obama will be paying, dearly, for not vanquishing Clinton on Tuesday.