For the first time since mid-February, Barack Obama closed strongly in heavily contested primaries Tuesday and out-distanced Hillary Clinton in ways that defied expectations.
Obama's camp felt internally that it would finish well in Indiana and North Carolina and the evidence suggests it did.
Obama's pre-primary polling average in North Carolina showed an 8-point average lead for Obama. It appears he out-performed that average by a full 4 points.
Similarly, in Indiana Obama trailed Clinton on average by roughly 6 points. It appears he will outperform that average by 4 or 5 points.
This is not an outcome either campaign expected.
Obama's campaign did not expect to win Indiana or fight Clinton to something close to a tie. The Obama camp also internally wondered if the outcome in North Carolina could be a low single-digit win or a margin of, at most, 10 points.
In both categories, Obama bested his own expectations.
This matters in the larger context of how the party will view Obama's overall electability.
By outperforming his polling average in both states, Obama can credibly argue his out-organized Clinton and his overall message resonated even as he spent, in the words of campaign manager David Plouffe, "two weeks on the griddle."
One of the key questions is whether Obama won the "day of" primary, meaning that he carried the votes cast on Election Day. It's clear Obama crushed Clinton in early votes cast in both states. A good portion of these votes where cast before the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright took hold a second time in the campaign and before Clinton engaged Obama in a debate over her proposal for a federal gasoline tax holiday.
This was a key difference in the Clinton and Obama strategies heading into these primaries. Obama's camp worked overtime to solicit support in early voting. Clinton made virtually no effort on this front as her campaign, by necessity, focused resources solely on Pennsylvania to ensure the biggest victory possible.
This strategic difference was fueled in part by the monetary advantage Obama's long-enjoyed in recent months.
That advantage did not translate into Obama over-performing his polling average in Texas, Ohio or Pennsylvania. It appears it very much did in Indiana and North Carolina and may bring Obama closer than ever before to closing down the long-running contest for the Democratic nomination.