One of the most influential (and thus far subdued) voices in the Democratic primary all but declared the contest over on Friday morning.
"At this point, Barack is the presumptive nominee," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel during the New Yorker's magazine conference. "Hillary can't win but something could happen that could effect that Barack could lose the nomination."
Emanuel wouldn't go so far as to say that Clinton should drop out. "Next question!" he declared when asked. But his voice does carry political sway. The congressman has been staunchly non-committal throughout the primary process. And his ties to the Clinton administration and connections to fellow Chicago pol Obama make him one of the key figures who could help facilitate an end to the nomination battle.
Clearly, party unity was on Emanuel's mind.
"What Hillary does in the next month is important," he said. "If she spends her time contrasting with Senator McCain, drawing distinctions that help the Democratic Party, that's productive. If it's done in another way, that's not productive."
Emanuel suggested that Clinton's choice for a political path forward would come after consultation with her husband. Noting that this process has produced unpredictable results before, he nevertheless spoke about her candidacy in the past tense.
"She has a big career ahead of her," when asked by the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza what the future had in store. "As much as her ending it will... [he stopped himself] ...how the loser ends it will determine the winner. How that story gets written will determine not only the winner's capacity to go on but also the person who didn't get the nomination."
He went on: "This is an incredible person with incredible resources, capacity. She's gone through Ken Starr. She's gone through her marriage being ridiculed. She's gone through being blamed for health care and she's still going."
In addition to addressing the Democrats, Emanuel also tried his hand at assessing the Republicans. He spoke optimistically about the general election, but cautioned not to take the GOP lightly.
"Nobody should assume these guys are gonna roll over and let you scratch their belly," said Emanuel. "They are going to cling to power and, like in 06, you gotta go take it from them."
As for Sen. John McCain, Emanuel insisted that the his candidacy constituted the myth of a maverick.
"I think he's an unbelievable hardcore Republican," he said. "Our job is to show who he really is."
Danny Shea helped report this story.
UPDATE: Sarah Feinberg, the communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, e-mails Marc Ambinder:
While I realize it's a slow news day, and all 08 reporters feel every news bit must be immediately made out to be breathless, breaking, and instantly analyzed in order to break thru, I would like to clarify two points:
1. All Rahm said was that Senator Obama is clearly now the frontrunner, which by and large means, because of the calendar, he is the presumptive nominee, at this point. He was stating the obvious. Its about the calendar.
2. The "presumptive" quote is only accurate if you ignore the several sentences proceeding this half sentence and the several minutes of conversation that followed it. I'd call it selective quoting. Congressman Emanuel also stated about 90 seconds after this that he thought Senator clinton can still win the nomination and he stands by that.