The Pennsylvania Primary and the future of the Clinton campaign

In the last few weeks, a new fundamental dynamic for the Democratic nomination has emerged. It is now clear that Senator Obama is winning the race, and Senator Clinton is losing.

The big question tonight is whether even a significant victory by Senator Clinton alters this fundamental dynamic. I am increasingly of the belief that it won't.

To review, Senator Obama has won more states, more votes, more delegates, is about to catch up on super delegates, has built a far superior and modern campaign, has dramatically outraised his opponent and is ahead in all national polls, in one by more than 10 points. He is doing much better than Senator Clinton with Independents. If current trends continue, he will end the primary season less than 100 delegates from the amount needed to win, meaning that it won't take much to put him over the top. Based on the new FEC reports, Senator Clinton is also functionally out of money or in the process of going deep into debt. And as I wrote recently, even the argument that Senator Clinton has won more important states doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Which is why her often repeated argument that she will be a stronger general election candidate is silly. If you get beat by your opponent fair and square, how can you claim to be a stronger candidate?

As Noam Scheiber just wrote, I have long been saying that this six-week window between March and April 22 was going to be a very bad period for Senator Clinton. It allowed the Party elites and the media enough time to actually figure out what was going on in this confusing nominating process. This slow period allowed it to become understood that Senator Obama was in fact winning and Senator Clinton losing, Period. No mulligans. No changing the rules midway through the game. By the end of March, all understood that Senator Obama had all but locked this thing up.

In this period, it also became clear to some that Senator Clinton no longer really had the power, the ability, to alter this dynamic. She couldn't win enough of the states left to get back in the game. She can no longer win the popular vote. The super delegates have broken heavily against her. The Party has kept its word, and, despite over-the-top efforts by the Clinton campaign, properly disallowed the Florida and Michigan results. Her chief strategist, her campaign manager and a top political strategist have left, and her new campaign manager, while respected, has virtually no campaign experience. Her money has dried up. The Tuzla story, for those who paid close attention to it, showed that she had the capacity to strategically lie, repeatedly, recklessly, about something of great importance. And now her relentless attacks on Senator Obama, by dramatically raising her own negatives, have weakened her own candidacy more than it has damaged him, leaving her in a more precarious national position.

I have never believed that if Senator Clinton knew she was going to lose that she would continue on past the point at which it was becoming ruinous to her very bright future. Smart politicians, as the saying goes, know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. And the Clintons are smart politicians. When that moment - the moment the candidate decides to drop out - comes in a campaign, it is never simple. But it often has to do more with money than with honor. And right now, the thing to watch is whether the outcome tonight is enough for her to keep raising the $20 million or so a month she needs to keep going. If not, the race could be over quickly. If she does have a strong and convincing win, and can quickly raise enough money to keep her supporters confident that she still has a shot, perhaps this will go on to mid-June. There will be shouts of "Comeback Kid, 3!" - but I am no longer convinced that even this scenario is possible any longer.

So even if Senator Clinton wins big tonight, it does not mean she will have the power or ability to win the nomination. She perhaps will have staved off defeat, but not recovered enough to be back in this thing. Of course, technically, she could win. But for her to win now requires an extraordinary event, one that would have to essentially end the Obama candidacy, something that, after his adequate management of the Wright and bitter moments, I no longer think she has the power herself to bring about. For her to win, it will require a political miracle, an Obama stumble of monumental proportions. Possible? Yes. Likely? No way. So why go on?

Perhaps, perhaps, what she is seeking is not a victory then, but what she and her husband have been seeking with such ferocity since the beginning of this campaign - a better and more honorable ending to what has been our promising, exhilarating, prosperous, productive and occasionally deeply disappointing long, national relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

And as long as there is a chance, even a small chance, of that coming about through this process, the battle may indeed go on - as long as the money holds out.