02/22/2008 09:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Winning is Losing

The crescendo of campaign talking points and punditry has turned to Ohio and Texas, a series of contests that could change the narrative -- or perhaps, end it. Recent polls have differed, but have generally shown Obama gaining on what were substantial leads for Hillary only weeks ago. Bill Clinton has repeated what James Carville had said earlier, that without wins in both states, the campaign would be over. At last night's debate, Hillary expressed a similar sentiment, suggesting that it was Texas that would choose the nominee.

If Obama's resource advantage and organizational strength lead him to upset victories in either state, the Clinton campaign will be deflated beyond repair. Her concession that night will signal a shift in tone, her withdrawal announced within days. There is little doubt she will be gracious and touching, her humanity on full display.

But what if she wins?

What if the steady increase in Obama's polling numbers plateaus, shy of what's needed to overcome her once sizable lead? Surely if Hillary wins both states she will continue onward, hoping that after 36 contests, there is still such a thing as momentum. But win or lose, the math is still daunting. In the remaining contests where Hillary is viable, she will have to win nearly two-thirds of the delegates to regain her lead, a feat that no combination of her dwindling coalition could muster. In every contest since February 5th, Obama has systematically eaten into her traditional base of women, Latinos, and low-income voters. Of the remaining states, Obama is favored to win many, with none of her victories assured. Ohio and Texas may change the story on March 4th, but they will not change her reality. When fourteen more states are added into the mix, the numbers will change, but the calculus will not. She cannot overtake him.

And yet, the race continues.

Having staked out Ohio and Texas, Hillary Clinton cannot admit publicly that the nomination was lost before they arrived. Ohio and Texas are not must-wins for Hillary. After ten staggering losses in a row, there are no more must-wins.

If Hillary wins Ohio and Texas, it will just prolong the inevitable decline of the once inevitable candidate. She will continue to advocate the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations; she will continue to call for super delegates to overturn the public will if needed. She will continue to deepen the animosity she has encouraged from within her own base, showcasing the very politics they have chosen to reject. The irony will be that her greatest losses will be suffered as a result of her wins. With no end in sight, her attacks will look selfish and subversive. The empathy and respect she could have regained with a graceful exit in March will be replaced by a bitterness and frustration, with wounds unlikely to heal.