PHILADELPHIA (MCT) Echoing in a hall in Charleston, W.Va., last week, a chant interrupted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech celebrating her 41-point stomping of Sen. Barack Obama in the state's primary: "It's not over."
Actually, it probably is.
Most politicos and analysts now consider the race for the Democratic nomination settled, and that is evident in how the discussion has moved to the party's chances in the general election, and questions of when and how Clinton will make her exit.
Could it be Tuesday? The same demographic dynamics that have kept the marathon campaign going this long are expected to produce a split in that day's primaries with Obama winning Oregon and Clinton taking Kentucky. But at the end of the day, Obama likely will have a majority of the delegates awarded to that point (though still not enough to clinch the nomination).
Clinton and her campaign advisers say she will fight on until the final primaries June 3 in Montana and South Dakota. Her last best hope of an upset rests on getting the 368 disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida seated in her favor considered unlikely and persuading an overwhelming majority of the remaining undeclared superdelegates to deny Obama.
"The only two outstanding questions are: When does she get out? And, how much damage is the ongoing primary doing?" said David Dunphy, a Democratic strategist. "Time will tell, (but) it does not seem her argument that she is more electable in swing states is catching on."
Indeed, even as the West Virginia results bolstered the evidence that Clinton runs better among working-class white voters, a steady flow of the all-important superdelegates was endorsing Obama.
That development was just part of the steady drizzle of bad news for Clinton as opinion in the party seemed to harden against her.
On Wednesday, Clinton gave a number of TV interviews to spin the West Virginia victory, but the Obama campaign orchestrated a late-afternoon surprise announcement that ended up blunting Clinton's coverage. Former presidential candidate John Edwards, a populist with strong blue-collar support, endorsed Obama. "Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I," Edwards said.
Earlier in the day, in an unrelated development with even more symbolic sting, national leaders of the abortion-rights group NARAL endorsed Obama, spurning a longtime ally who happens to be the first woman with a plausible shot at the White House.
Even Democratic consultant James Carville, a Hillary Clinton loyalist who was the strategic architect of former President Bill Clinton's 1992 victory, abandoned his usual until-the-last-dog-dies stance, saying he expected Obama to be the nominee.
Then President Bush elevated Obama by taking a veiled jab at him in a speech Thursday to the Israeli Knesset, comparing those willing to negotiate with terrorists and radicals to appeasers of the Nazis before World War II. The remark was widely understood to be directed at Obama, who has said he would sit down with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad; Bush's attack united Democrats, even Clinton, in condemnation.
Speculation was widespread that Clinton was continuing so she could get help raising funds to pay back her $11.5 million in personal loans to the campaign. Or that she was angling for the vice presidential nomination or even a seat on the Supreme Court.
But it could be much simpler. "If you strapped Hillary Clinton to a lie detector ... she believes in her core that she would be a better candidate in the general election, and a better president," said Neil Oxman, a Democratic media strategist in Philadelphia. "How do you talk someone down from that? And do you even have a right to?"
Some of the superdelegates who are undeclared say they believe the odds are with Obama but have held off out of respect for Clinton.
"She's got a rough road ahead of her, but she deserves a shot to see if she can change the numbers," said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a superdelegate from Pittsburgh. "My vote is going to be in the Obama corner unless Hillary can win the (overall) popular vote."
Others point out that pressuring Clinton out of the race would risk alienating millions of female voters, a crucial part of the Democratic base.
Still, Oxman and other Democrats worry that the long primary fight is shortening the time available for the fall. "There are a million things you've got to do to tool up," he said.
But Democrats are cheered by what was arguably the most important political development last week, a stunning victory in a special congressional election in a northeastern Mississippi district that had elected a Republican seven straight times with more than 60 percent of the vote. It was the GOP's third special-election loss in the last few weeks in usually safe districts, highlighting the burdens the party carries into the fall an unpopular war and president, a stressed-out economy.
"The real story is Mississippi, and what it says about the political climate that is favorable to Democrats," said Rebecca Kirszner, a communications strategist in Boston.