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Starting Gate: Five To Go?

It's Tuesday in May and you know what that means – more Democratic primary contests in a race that began in Iowa way back on January 3rd. Over four months later, Barack Obama will return to that first-on-the-nation caucus state to claim at least some measure of victory as he's expected to have won a majority of the pledged delegates available in the race by the time all the votes in Oregon and Kentucky are counted. Hillary Clinton may stick to her guns and finish the race, stretching it out to the bitter end and hoping for a settlement in Florida and Michigan that could extend the race even beyond the end of the primary season on June 3rd. Some remaining questions and thoughts:
  • A forty-one point blowout win in West Virginia did nothing to improve Clinton's position in the race. By the next evening, John Edwards was endorsing Obama and by the end of the week the onetime Democratic front-runner was reduced to sitting on the sidelines. Will her expected big win in Kentucky yield better results? Unlikely, given Obama's expected win in Oregon later in the night but if she can manage to run up the score it helps her popular vote argument a bit.
  • Another big loss isn't what a candidate on the verge of capturing the majority of pledged delegates really wants but it's not going to change the math. Time zones aren't going to help boost his aura of inevitability either – at least not before Wednesday. Because Kentucky's polls close at 7:00pm ET, pundits and media outlets could be dissecting another loss for Obama (and perhaps his failure to win over those "blue-collar" voters) for hours before the polls "close" in Oregon at 11:00pm ET. And, because Oregon conducts all elections by mail, the counting can be slow. It's possible a winner won't be declared before most of the East Coast is fast asleep.
  • Clinton's West Virginia win at least kept her campaign chugging along for another week. But there are nearly two weeks after tonight until the next contest in Puerto Rico. That's a long time for a campaign to run along on fumes, something that won't be helped as more and more attention if focused on an Obama-John McCain match-up. Sure, there will be some Florida/Michigan drama but a campaign needs oxygen to continue – will hers get enough?
  • So far, Democratic Party leaders have sought to give Clinton plenty of room to wind this race down on her own terms. Hoping to avoid alienating Clinton's voters (particularly women who may hold a grudge should Clinton be bullied out of the race), the flood of superdelegate endorsements and calls for her to exit have not yet materialized. The prospect of two more weeks – and maybe more – of the campaign could be enough to get some of them off the fence. Has anyone heard from Al Gore lately?
  • Will Obama's quasi-victory celebration in Iowa tonight be too much for Clinton – and her supporters – to handle? The Washington Post reports that the Clinton camp is "rankled" by the display, noting: "They see it as a highhanded effort to embarrass her and to generate renewed calls from others in the party for her to quit the race before anyone has achieved a genuine majority of pledged delegates and superdelegates."