03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Obama Balloon Loses Air Over Texas

Before it ever happened, it's already over. That was the feeling last night at the small Obama rally in Houston less than twenty-four hours before the Texas primary. The evening wore that familiar holiday air: you haven't opened the presents, you haven't had the feast, but you feel like you have, and secretly you're ready for January. This is just a roundabout way of saying that it--I wish I could tell you what--has passed.

No clairvoyance accompanies my sense that something has come to an end. The campaign may have reached the moment Obama, from his tone last night, believes to be near: "Here we are with the possibility of winning the nomination." Or is this the end of yet another phase of a long campaign that now cedes the momentum and must regroup for the next battle?

Last night Obama acknowledged that he's taken some hits in the last few days, although he never talked directly about the damage--never mentioning NAFTA and naive college professors, or national security and ringing phones, or even Jesus. He merely said, "a toxic politics works."

What was the campaign's strategy in sending Obama back to Houston so soon after its huge rally that drew 20,000 people to the Toyota Center? Inevitably, last night's rally wore an air of anticlimax. Maybe the second appearance is an indicator of how important Houston is for Obama. He needn't have returned, however; he already has the African-American vote here, and after Hillary Clinton's backhanded testimonial to his Christianity on 60 Minutes , every black Baptist Texan who can crawl on his or her deathbed to the polls is going to get there. Last night's rally brought out Obama's Texas base, African-Americans, just as Clinton's recent events here have been mostly Hispanic. It's as if Houston has emptied of white people and the hundred or so ethnicities that have thriving communities here. But then Houston is, by and large, a Republican town.

"There's a tendency to start feeling kinda like, huh!, like things are just always gonna go the way they should," Obama said last night. "But one of the things I've learned is that, what makes this powerful, is not that things always go easy, but rather that we are willing to go forward even when it's hard." Earlier, Obama reiterated the familiar themes of health care, education, energy, Iraq--and frankly, that part of his speech sounded tired. Like Clinton, Obama needs a fresh start, a new tack, and certainly a new speech. At the close last night, Obama retold the Greenwood story. "I was gonna bring it back out for this evening," he said. Now I've heard the "Fire It Up!" anecdote at least twenty times as I've followed Barack Obama from state to state, but last night was the best he's ever told it. Even some of the press were laughing. The perfection of his storytelling, the time when he gets it just right, also suggested closure, even as Obama himself was talking about going forward.