Democratic voters in Texas and Ohio decided Tuesday not to stop the fight. Instead, they gave Hillary Clinton the comeback victories she needed to stay in the ring with Barack Obama all the way to the Democratic convention where unpledged superdelegates could find themselves on the spot. The endgame in this fascinating and historic contest could be ugly and divisive.
Democrats hope it doesn't come to a brokered convention, and it probably won't. But even a protracted and bitterly fought campaign risks weakening the party's prospects in the general election. The longer Clinton and Obama slash and attack each other, party leaders fear, the better for John McCain, who secured the Republican nomination Tuesday and has turned his attention to raising money and preparing for the fall campaign.
Clinton has earned the right to soldier on, so no more talk from pundits and pols about her gracefully bowing out of the race. If she wins next month's Pennsylvania primary, she can rightfully boast that she has defeated Obama in most primaries in big states, including New Jersey, California, Texas and Ohio, that are crucial to a Democratic victory in November. The Clinton campaign argues his failure to win in a major battleground state raises questions about his electability.
Obama reminded reporters that he has won more states than Clinton and leads in the total popular vote so far and in pledged delegates. That may be true, but Tuesday's results suggest that Clinton's attacks worked and that he can expect even sharper ones in the remaining weeks on the primary calendar. Clinton was confident enough to say Wednesday she would consider Obama as her vice-presidential running mate. But given the bitter feelings festering in the Clinton and Obama camps, Democrats shouldn't count on that dream ticket.
From here on, both Clinton and Obama will wage a draining battle on two fronts. Clinton will not only be pressing her attacks against her opponent, but trying to slow or stop the Democratic establishment's recent drift toward Obama. For his part, Obama can expect to come under heavy fire not only from Clinton but also from McCain, who already is questioning Obama's judgment on national security matters, a line of attack Clinton has opened up.
Meanwhile, the pundits who foolishly called on Clinton to withdraw from the race before Tuesday's voting should take a vacation or, better still, take a hike. This campaign is going into its trench warfare phase. The best — and maybe the worst — could still be ahead.