No matter the office or the candidates, all campaigns usually arrive at a moment of clarity. The cotton-candy clouds of confusion part and we suddenly see that one person is connecting with voters and looks better suited for the job.
That moment is upon us in the Democratic race for President, and for backers of Hillary Clinton, it is not a pretty picture.
Although she is desperate for a big win, Clinton has frittered away almost three weeks in astonishingly trivial pursuits. It's as though her computer blew a fuse after Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 and she doesn't know what to do. Or who she wants to be.
Internal campaign feuds are becoming public, she is running low on cash and the message changes as often as Hillary's pantsuits.
One day the media is blamed for letting Obama off easily and the next day voters are accused of being fooled by his charisma. Bill Clinton is Mr. Everything one day and Mr. Invisible the next.
Most revealing is that Hillary herself now seems determined to aim low, a conclusion that was painfully obvious at Thursday's Texas debate. In a showdown she had to win, she bet the night on a cheap attack that Obama plagiarized some of his speeches and thus has a disqualifying character defect.
To say the logic is a stretch doesn't do it justice. No surprise then that Obama swatted the charge away, but she couldn't let go. "It's not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox," she said in a rehearsed line that will have no imitators at the Oscars.
It's hard to imagine a more un-presidential moment at such a critical time. It qualifies as a case of political malpractice that neither she nor her aides realized how petty the attack would sound.
Even before the Texas audience booed and groaned, it was clear the issue wasn't working. Her campaign first tried it in the days before the Wisconsin primary on Feb. 19 a contest that seemed close until Obama won by 17 points.
Proving you can fool some of the people all the time, some Clinton insiders reportedly argued she did better among late-deciders and therefore, the plagiarism charge would pay off if they kept banging on it. So it became the campaign's Big Idea.
No wonder some donors are grumbling about how she has blown through a ton of dough with little to show for it. For $110 million, this is all they get?
The small-bore thinking also claimed another casualty in Texas. Her strong support for a border fence, which she first articulated in an interview with me in April 2006, was dumped overboard in a rank pander for Latino votes.
"We need to review this," she said Thursday. "There may be places where a physical barrier is appropriate." Before the flip-flop, there was no "may be."
Echoing her claim that she was "misled" into voting for the Iraq war, she even said although she voted for the fence, the "Bush administration has gone off the deep end" in actually building it. Who knew?
Obama, who, like Clinton, voted for the fence and champions a path to legalization for those already here, at least had the courage to say we must do something to stop the "influx" of illegal workers.
That's the position Clinton used to have, before she started running for President. It's odd, but, in seeking the highest office in the land, she apparently believes the low road is the path to victory.
History says it's a bad bet. So while she still has time, she might want to brush up on the wise advice attributed to architect Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood ... aim high in hope and work."