It is a sad irony or perhaps cosmic justice: just as Hillary Clinton succeeded in reforming her coalition -- older voters, working class women, self-identified Democrats, Latinos, the less affluent, the less educated -- just as she's succeeded in raising doubts about the presumptive Democratic nominee, the claws that are the Democratic rules tightened, perhaps inescapably -- in that she cannot escape from them. Forget about momentum. Or press coverage. Or arguments. Or moral claims to this or that. Forget about the external things that all of us in the media normally cover.

As the calendar progress, the reality is that the rules have become the controlling legal authority. When folks say "this ain't over for a while," they don't have a predicate. Perhaps the scrutiny on Obama will increase and that he will crash and that 30% of his superdelegates will crash and that 30% of his pledged delegates will defect and that 60% of the remaining superdelegates delegates will go her way. That could happen, but it is still not that likely to happen. I suppose that if we discover that Obama has a second family in Idaho...

Again, a Clinton "recovery" and nomination is not impossible. It just isn't likely. In the gut of many Clinton advisers 48 hours from now may be the sense that the confetti is ephemeral.

The basic argument they are putting forward: Three times, Democrats have been the opportunity to consign Hillary Clinton to the dustbin of history. Three times, they've given her new life. Just...just... just forget about the math. Forget about the numbers. Look at the big picture. Focus on Obama's credentials. Focus on the fact that he is not winning a lot of the, well, industrial, big, old-line, mainline Democratic states. Put all the chips on Ed Rendell's command of Pennsylvania and then Puerto Rico. Hope to win big. Hope that the superdelegates use PA as the proxy for their decision. Fast forward seven weeks...

Was Tuesday a rebuke to Obama?

Absolutely.

But a qualified rebuke.

From the exit polls, it's hard to discern a particular concern. Clinton seems to have raised general concerns about the entire nature of his candidacy, but only among her core demographic. And make no mistake: this demographic is absolutely vital for the Democrats in the general election. Obama needs Clinton voters as much as he needs Obama voters.

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