And whatever the final result, it is difficult not to conclude that Barack Obama has won the campaign. Hillary Clinton's core problem is that she finds herself in the campaign which Obama has framed. His simply being there after Super Tuesday destroyed her 'inevitability' strategy in terms of strategy, public messages and campaign funding and organisation. Despite some mis-steps under pressure, Obama's campaign has been impressive in its consistency and relative calm.
Still, Hillary Clinton is not out of this. A good estimate might be that she has a perhaps 25%-33% chance of the nomination. But each of her routes there looks hazardous.
Going negative: The Clinton campaign complains about Obama being untested. Their latest negative ads in Wisconsin strike me as pretty tame, and unlikely to do much damage to Obama, while taking the hit from their opponent on 'going negative' and 'politics as usual'. Again, Obama finds his opponent is playing into his campaign frame.
The big state strategy: She has won some of the biggest states, and has poll leads in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania which could her back in front in elected delegates. But she is conceding most of the smaller states, and so is likely to have lost ten primaries in a row by March 4th. Shades of Rudy Giuliani?
Challenging the rules: It is difficult to find any non-partisan observer who thinks the Clinton campaign has a case over seating the Michigan and Florida delegates, who are barred because the state parties broke the February 5th on primaries or caucuses for those outside the four states given special privileges. The Clinton camp gave clear commitments, with all of the campaigns,that they would accept the rules. (The Michigan case is particularly risible).
The New York Times regards this move as 'potentially incendiary'. That may be an understatement, as Ezra Klein argues.
The Clinton campaign would do better to close this issue down - and quickly. It simply plays into the 'movement versus the machine' frame of the Obama-ites. It is difficult to see how this could be used to achieve the nomination without damaging the party. (Senator Chuck Schumer, Clinton's fellow New York Senator, gave a good and emollient performance, when billed as representing the Clinton campaign on Meet the Press yesterday, stressing the need for party unity) . A much better approach would be to propose that both candidates to agree to a new primary or caucus - if the practical logistics would allow it. That would be difficult for the Obama campaign to oppose.
Super-delegate edge: For some, the super-delegate issue is similar to the Michigan/Florida case. But the super-delegates are part of the rules and everybody has known it, as I argue in a longer post on this issue. But the ability of the super-delegates to save Hillary Clinton is much overstated. Her lead among super-delegates has fallen considerably, and pledges need not stay pledged. This is only likely to be a route to the nomination if the delegate race is very close to a tie.
So Clinton needs to win - and win well - in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and perhaps also find a legitimate way to bring Florida or Michigan back onto the map. It is not impossible. But it will be very dificult. And even a good performance in the key target states may take us back into neck-and-neck territory rather than a clear Clinton lead.
Obama's 'framing advantage' has helped him to respond deftly to attacks from his opponent. Demand more policy detail? He can do wonkery too and has a natural 'professorial' mode. Putting some policy heavy, somewhat boring passages in his speeches before getting back to the campaign uplift isn't too difficult for him, as the New York Times reports
“Today, I want to take it down a notch,” said Mr. Obama, of Illinois, standing on the floor of a General Motors plant. “This is going to be a speech that is a little more detailed. It’s going to be a little bit longer, with not too many applause lines.”
In return, he insists again and more powerfully that 'words do matter'. To respond, Hillary Clinton needs to combine the 'solutions business' policies' by showing she can soar and inspire. That's harder.
Perhaps as the Clinton campaign has adopted the unfamiliar role of the challenger, perhaps they have now become too focused on their frustrations in making the case against Obama when the problem is that they have yet to articulate a distinctive case for their candidate.