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New primary night, same funeral

The Democratic party's longest slow-motion funeral ceremony continues tonight, as more nails are hammered onto the coffin bearing Hillary Clinton's hopes and dreams. And these are galvanized nails, which are particularly resista

The Democratic party's longest slow-motion funeral ceremony continues tonight, as more nails are hammered onto the coffin bearing Hillary Clinton's hopes and dreams.

And these are galvanized nails, which are particularly resistant to transient shifts in the political weather, such as another double-digit Hillary win in Appalachia. Barack Obama will be well positioned to withstand the momentary corrosion of a Kentucky loss, for this simple reason:

By the time the dust clears tomorrow - after Kentucky has spoken and after Oregon is fully tallied - Obama will have achieved an important milestone, clinching a majority of all the pledged delegates. There are 3253 pledged delegates nationwide; Obama enters tonight with roughly 1610 already in his camp, which means he needs only 17 more (out of 103 available tonight in Oregon and Kentucky) to clinch first place in the pledgee pool.

He also will emerge tomorrow with a nationwide popular vote lead of roughly half a million votes (not counting Florida and Michigan, which were disqualified because they held their primaries too early in defiance of the party rules that all candidates, including Clinton, originally agreed to honor). Obama will likely finish the season with the popular vote lead, given that he is reportedly strong in the handful of small states that have yet to vote, notably South Dakota and Montana. He has also clinched first place for the most states won (31 at last count), and he leads Clinton comfortably - at last count, by 14 points - in Gallup's tracking poll of Democratic sentiment. And he has also surpassed Clinton in the total tally of pledged superdelegates, having garnered 73 percent of all the supers who have tendered endorsements since February 2.

Which means that Clinton can gain this nomination only if all the still-unpledged supers, joined by a giant horde of pro-Obama supers, somehow decide that the candidate who has lost by all the aforementioned metrics should still be awarded the prize.

That does not seem likely to happen. Apparently, not even former Clinton inner circle loyalist Patti Solis Doyle ("When I'm speaking, Hillary is speaking") believes in miracles, because now there are reports that the recently deposed campaign manager is in talks with the Obama people about joining their general election team. And it doesn't appear that John McCain believes in miracles, either - given the fact that since last Friday he has concentrated all his fire on Obama, with Obama responding in kind, with the result that these fussilades have shoved Clinton to the margins.

(Tonight, watch how Obama tries to frame the story. His double-digit loss in Kentucky will potentially dominate the media coverage - at least in the eastern time zones - with no corrective from Oregon until the wee hours. Obama will try to trump all that by delivering a general-election speech, with the focus on McCain, while stumping in Iowa...a state that narrowly went red in 2004, a state that is very much on his map for November.)

One feature of the slow-motion Clinton funeral ceremony is the ongoing procession of euologists, all of them offering reasons for the demise of the Clinton candidacy. Clinton herself, naturally, doesn't believe it's her fault; she blames it on sexism ("people who are nothing but misogynists"). Her husband doesn't think it's her fault; he blames it - naturally - on the press (he said in Kentucky, "this has been the most slanted press coverage in American history"). And her in-house loyalists - quoted not for attribution in perhaps the best article of all - pin the blame on various top aides for alleged messaging, tactical, and strategic deficiencies.

And yet, all these eulogies seem to overlook the biggest factor of all: Clinton fatigue. The inescapable truth is that a huge Democratic constituency was hungering for an alternative to the Clintons. I heard this repeatedly, as far back as 2002. While interviewing Washington-based Democrats, I was struck by how often they would trash the party's golden duo. (I knew it was coming when they would preface their remarks by asking, "Can I go off the record for a moment?") As one prominent party woman - this is someone who appears regularly on national TV, in a neutral mode - remarked to me in 2003, "We need to put the Clintons in a cage somewhere, with a blanket thrown over it."

The point is, millions of Democrats were poised to support a strong not-Hillary candidate. Obama filled the bill, and the Clintons, convinced of their entitlement, were way too slow in taking him seriously - and in recognizing that his early support was, in some important ways, a referendum on them.

All of which leaves Hillary with basically one argument, and I suspect we'll hear it again tonight: the notion that, in the wake of a Kentucky win, she is actually ahead in the national popular long as one ignores the party rules and counts Florida and Michigan. Right. And if she only had wings, she could win the Boston Marathon.