The audience in King's Chapel on the campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon seemed to hold its collective breath Thursday night as George Stephanopoulos gave voice to words about the Democratic presidential nomination process that most in the nation have been impatiently waiting to hear: "The race is over." The same quiet audience emitted whoops of joy a few minutes later when Stephanopoulos said that Iowa's position as the first-in-the-nation caucus state would continue.
"I want to tell you that I do think this race -- the Democratic race -- is over," Stephanopoulos said. "Tuesday night was a decisive tipping point. Mathematically it is simply not possible for Sen. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton to catch Sen. [Barack] Obama in the elected delegates. Beyond that, I think what you are starting to feel in the 48 hours or so since North Carolina and Indiana is the sense inside the Democratic Party that this has to end, that Democrats have to unify behind a single candidate and get on with the business of the general election."
As evidence of his prediction, Stephanopoulos said that Obama was expected to pick up two additional Democratic superdelegates today, placing his campaign ahead of Clinton's for the first time in terms of the coveted pledged superdelegate total.
"By the end of the day tomorrow, [Obama] will be ahead of her by that count as well, and you are going to start to see even more of the ranks closing around him," Stephanopoulos said. "I think it is very possible that Sen. Clinton will stay in the race for another week or two. You see, [Clinton]
has never actually lost a race. ... I think this is really a difficult process for her to wrap her head around."
According to Stephanopoulos, Clinton's staff was telling her prior to Tuesday night that she would "win Indiana by a much larger margin -- by 8 or 10 points -- and would hold North Carolina to a very narrow loss, maybe even win it." The disappointment, he said, was evidenced on Clinton's face when she spoke late that night.
"You could see it -- those of you who were able to stay up that long -- you could see it in her face," he said. "I think she was in a little bit of shock and angry. I think she's in the process now of trying to absorb that and figure out how we get out of this primary process."
Looking past the 2008 contests, Stephanopoulos said that Obama, whom he now considers the de facto nominee, not only owes Iowa for his catapult out of the state and into the remaining contests, but, if elected to the White House in November, will reward Iowa by pushing for it to continue the role as the nation's earliest presidential nomination contest.
"As to first-in-the-nation status, I don't think that's going to change," he said. "I hope next time around is not in 2011. You know, this time it started so early that it was almost in 2007. But I think [Iowa's place] is secure. ... Especially if Obama becomes president, he will feel such loyalty to Iowa just as Pres. Clinton felt to New Hampshire that there is no way it will change."
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