What began as a night that could have delivered a devastating psychological blow to the Obama campaign has ended with an extraordinary win for Barack Obama, leaving him comfortably poised to ascend to the nomination. Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton easily in North Carolina and, in a true squeaker, lost narrowly in Indiana, a result the Clinton campaign will be unable to overcome.
Expectations had cratered for Obama approaching the evening, shifting the likelihood of a large victory in North Carolina to merely the hope for a small one. In Indiana, what began as a potential victory for Obama ended with a Clinton victory assumed. And yet, expectations were shattered; Obama's North Carolina victory was decisive, his victory speech transcendent, and his loss in Indiana so close, it hardly feels like a loss.
Obama cut into Clinton's base dramatically. Hillary only won voters making less than $50,000 by a four point margin in Indiana. She also saw an eleven point drop in support among Catholics from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Additionally, as Tim Russert noted, Hillary's slide among black voters continued to worsen. With 92% of African Americans voting for Obama in Indiana, one wonders which states Hillary thinks are winnable without the most loyal bloc of Democratic voters.
All eyes turned to Indiana and North Carolina to see what impact the Reverend Wright story would have on the race. Exit polls showed that, in both states, 48% of voters saw the issue as at least somewhat important to their decision. But that number fails to tell the whole story. Among blacks in Indiana, 44% viewed the Wright story as important. And yet, more than nine in ten black voters chose Obama. With voters citing Wright as important, but still voting for Obama, it would appear that, in fact, Obama's response to the Wright crisis played as important a role in voter decisions as the initial controversy itself. Given his success, he clearly responded well.
Indiana voters trusted Hillary on the economy, but by a far narrower margin than previous primaries. In North Carolina, Obama won that category handily, suggesting that the fight over Clinton's gas-tax gimmick ultimately favored Obama - and honesty. At almost every turn, voters rejected the politics of Hillary Clinton. By a twenty point gap, voters believed Hillary unfairly attacked Obama in Indiana, a reality that has no doubt contributed to the widening divide within the party.
What is unclear still is whether, given Hillary's crushing defeat Tuesday night, she can possibly move the race forward. Whatever path to the nomination she once envisioned has entirely evaporated, a reality not lost on the remaining superdelegates. How soon will they wait to throw their support behind the first black nominee in our history?
Time is so clearly no longer on Clinton's side. Obama is within two hundred delegates of securing the nomination and will lock up the pledged delegate race by May 20th. His win in North Carolina wiped out her popular vote and delegate gains in Pennsylvania. His narrow loss in Indiana wiped out her momentum. Time marches on, but she may not. The end of her campaign might come before the end of the week.
Obama has, through the last month, experienced an extraordinary crucible of national politics, coming out on the other side more capable and focused, with calluses rather than scars. Where some see damage, even the Clinton campaign should recognize strength. The argument they have consistently used to bolster Clinton is that she has been through trials, she has been tested, and as a result she is ready for November.
Thanks to her relentless Rovian campaign, Barack Obama too is now ready.
In 2006, Obama visited Kibera, Kenya, one of the worst slums in all of Africa. As he came to the village, children from the outskirts of town, seeing him approaching, turned and ran to the village center, chanting, "Obama biro yawne yo! Obama biro yawne yo!"
"Obama's coming. Clear the way."