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So we're finally, mercifully, thankfully past Pennsylvania. Hill's the big winner, Barry's the big loser, Johnny Mac is still angry. But where do the candidates fall if one were to, say, rank them in order of power based on completely arbitrary criteria? Good question!
1. Sen. Barack Obama (Last Rank: 1) ⇓
The fundamentals of the race remain favorable to Obama. He's got the lead in delegates, and a 200,000 popular vote margin even with Florida factored in.* Yes, that's about 200,000 fewer popular votes than he led by yesterday, but Pennsylvania was the last chance for Clinton to significantly narrow the gap; Obama will likely gain a good chunk of that vote back in North Carolina.
Obama is still the front-runner. But.
But Obama hasn't been able to close the deal. He hasn't been able to effectively end the race. He didn't have to win Pennsylvania to do so -- even a narrow loss would have made it tough for Clinton to go on. But if he didn't get blown out in Pennsylvania, it was close -- and that has exposed a possible weakness.
Obama is now in the precarious position of needing to win Indiana to quell doubts about his campaign. If he loses there, especially if he loses big, it will feed into the Clinton camp's argument that he can't win white, working-class Democrats, and therefore can't win in November. Now, I find that argument somewhat unpersuasive, for the same reason I'd find an argument that Hillary Clinton can't win among African-American voters in November unpersuasive.
But the argument isn't going to be met with as much skepticism today as it was last week, and if Clinton can win in Indiana, and then go on to win West Virginia and Kentucky (as she should)...well, it's going to give that argument more and more credence. Enough to topple Obama? I doubt it -- as I said, the fundamentals are in his favor. But the longer this goes on, the more people are going to question whether he can actually win, and the more compelling Clinton's argument becomes. If Obama wins Indiana, I suspect the momentum of the argument will stall, and Obama will get the nomination. But if he loses...well, he'll still be the favorite. But he won't be inevitable.