The race wil turn again today. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will emerge from Super Tuesday Part II as co-front-runners. That's the consensus of more and more Democrats watching this race from the trenches and from afar.
The most likely scenario tonight, according to top officials in both campaigns, is Clinton wins Ohio and Rhode Island comfortably and fights Obama to a tie or ekes out a victory in Texas in the popular vote. The only safe state in the Obama column this morning, by mutual agreement of both camps, is Vermont.
The question in Texas is who wins the pledged delegates alloted from the primary and subsequent caucuses. Obama could win the delegate hunt while still losing the popular vote because of the weighting of delegates in African-America state senate districts and those allocated through the caucus process where Obama's grassroots organization may out-perform Clinton's.
Obama's Texas operatives have grown more nervous about Obama's prospects in Texas since Friday. They readily concede the "3 a.m." ad from Clinton changed the dynamic and undecided voters began to move toward Clinton over the weekend.
Clinton's lead in Ohio, according to Clinton field organizers, sits at about 6 points but there is a sense that late-breaking voters -- as they have in the past -- are moving toward Clinton and her margin of victory could exceed 6 points there.
Already, the Obama camp is out with a Super Tuesday Part II pre-buttal. Chief spokesman Bill Burton sent the following e-mail to campaign reporters at 9 a.m. EST:
"The Clinton campaign said this race was all about delegates and that they would be tied or ahead by morning. But despite the 20-point lead in Ohio and Texas that Senator Clinton had just two weeks ago, we will still be well ahead in delegates tonight and they will have failed at achieving their plainly stated goals. They have floated proposal after proposal to try to subvert the will of Democratic voters and retrospectively change the rules of the nominating process, but the bottom line is that it will still be virtually impossible for them to catch up in delegates after tonight."
To this, Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, had this direct response to The Bourbon Room placing that Burton quote before him on a conference call with reporters at 11:30 a.m EST:
"First, I would invite anyone on this call to judge, based on those remarks, who thinks there in a better position in Ohio and Texas. Two, here's the bottom line: this party is not going to nominate someone against John McCain who can't pass the commander in chief test and can't pass the steward of the economy test. And I think we're going to see tonight voters saying Sen. Obama has not passed that test. I think it is that simple. We are simply not going to nominate someone who voters have doubts about as commander in chief and steward of the economy."
Since Clinton, as The Bourbon Room noted Sunday, framed Texas as the place for the debate on national security and Ohio as the place for the debate on stewardship of the economy, that was Wolfson's way of predicting victories in Texas and Ohio -- without actually saying so.
The results tonight will raise significant questions about Obama's campaign, some of which are already being asked in Democratic circles.
Why wasn't his campaign able to win these four contests and definitively end the fight for the nomination, especially after having a massive financial advantage that blanketed the airwaves in Texas and Ohio with ads that ran four and five times more frequently than Clinton's (last Thursday night in Houston, The Bourbon Room saw 10 Obama ads in the space of an hour without seeing one Clinton ad). The true party experts will also ponder, if Obama fails to win Ohio and Texas, how the grassroots and TV and radio ad efforts of the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commerical Workers. These endorsements were supposed to cement Obama's hold on both states and give him the added organizational power and media message to put both big states away. Increasingly, it appears these organizational and media advantages will have been squandered.
This could raise new questions in the mind of Superdelegates as to Obama's staying power and political prowess. The Obama camp will argue that it trailed badly to Clinton in both states, fought hard and lost but still leads in pledged delegates and the race is still, basically, over. That's the core of Burton's argument above. They will further argue that Superdelegates should move to Obama to avoid a nasty seven-week campaign in Pennsylvania where Obama is going to be bloodied by Clinton and weakened for the upcoming contest with McCain.
The Clinton camp will argue that where it has fought Obama and fought him hard, it has won and that MUST matter. The Clinton camp has stalled defections of Superdelegates by privately making -- in so many words -- the following argument: don't defect to Obama, not until March 4. Let us fight until March 4 and if we win, stay neutral or re-evaluate Hillary as a potential nominee.
Many Superdelegates have accepted this wait-and-see approach. The ones -- about 40 -- who have gone to Obama were not willing to wait and feared that even if Clinton lost Ohio or Texas she wouldn't drop out.
Clinton will clearly not drop out. She's heading straight to Pennsylvania after her victory celebration and, as The Bourbon Room predicted on Sunday, we are now heading to Super Tuesday Part III.
Mike Emanuel currently serves as chief congressional correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1997 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.