Obama had Hillary Clinton on the ropes after his smashing win in Iowa.
You hear it everywhere: Tuesday is Hillary Clinton's last stand. If she can't win Ohio and Texas, she's history.
True, mostly. But it's not the whole story. The rest goes like this: This is Barack Obama's third chance to knock her out. If he can't close the deal this time, maybe he can't close the deal, period.
Either the third time is the charm for him, or it could be strike three against him. Any result tomorrow that doesn't finish her off lets her argue that Democratic voters' love affair with Obama was just one of those flings. She'll say buyer's remorse has set in, and it's time to get serious about winning the White House.
She'll also bring up her wins in the disputed Michigan and Florida primaries and repeat her vow to fight for those delegates.
Given the wacky past two months, those arguments would keep her alive. They start with the claim that even a split decision tomorrow would fit a pattern showing voters can't commit to the Illinois rookie.
Obama had Clinton on the ropes after his smashing win in Iowa. If he could roll over her in New Hampshire, her supposed firewall, she would wave the white flag.
We know how that turned out. Her teary-eyed chat in a diner, and the ridicule heaped on her by talk radio, led to a large turnout of women that saved her.
Obama had his second chance to end it on Super Tuesday. Fresh off his landslide in South Carolina and Bill Clinton's clumsy attempt to belittle him as the second coming of Jesse Jackson, Obama was on a roll. He eroded her big leads in the key contests of California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and winning one or two of those would have made him king.
Cancel that. Clinton won California and New Jersey by 10 points each. She won Massachusetts by 15 despite Sen. Edward Kennedy's passing the Camelot torch to Obama.
So here we go again. Obama has won the last 11 contests and for the third time, he can finish it.
The delegate math is in his favor. He has a lead of about 110 and unless she makes a net gain tomorrow, she will be running out of states. The 334 combined delegates in Texas and Ohio are the jackpot, with 36 more in Rhode Island and Vermont.
There are also 350 superdelegates still on the sidelines. Since neither Clinton nor Obama can practically get to the magic number of 2,025 without them, these supers are the deciders.
Clinton can make a case for them if she holds her own tomorrow. Winning Texas and Ohio would let her claim the race is basically tied and she has the momentum. Winning either one keeps her alive because it denies him the knockout. It's an asymmetrical contest where the greater burden is his.
It's not fair, but it's politics. She is like an incumbent, and the longer the race goes on, the more she benefits just by surviving.
Yes, the odds are against her. And it won't be pretty, but she still can win. If she does, she will have been tested by fire and the Clintons will have a new Comeback Kid.