The race for the Democratic presidential nomination did not end Tuesday night.
A split result — North Carolina solidly for Barack Obama, Indiana narrowly for Hillary Clinton — has cheated the party of the defining moment many had hoped for.
But the two states have sent important signals.
* Obama is much closer to the nomination. His delegate total was boosted by the combination of the big win in North Carolina and the very-nearly even result in Indiana. Also, the voting patterns suggest that, when all is said and done in June, the senator from Illinois will lead the popular vote. That denies Clinton an appeal she’s hoped to have for super delegates.
* Obama does not appear to have been so badly harmed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy as many pundits imagined would be the case. Almost half the voters in both Indiana and North Carolina said that the debate about the candidate’s former pastor was an “important” factor in the contest. But the senator from Illinois essentially won the sort of places he has been winning and lost the sort of places he has been losing before the Wright controversy stirred up.
* Obama is still having trouble “closing the deal.” His win in North Carolina was a comfortable one. But the loss in Indiana was agonizing. The senator needed to win a state where Clinton was presumed to be ahead. That meant he had to take Indiana. It didn’t quite happen.
* Clinton did not win where she needed to. She sent husband Bill to North Carolina, hoping he could swing rural white Democrats in a southern state to his side. The former president spent much of the last week in small towns and cities. But Obama still secured more than a third of the white vote, which in combination with his strong African-American vote prevented Clinton from getting close in a state where she really needed to win.
* African-American support for Barack Obama is solidifying. Where Obama won 78 percent of the African-American vote when South Carolina voted in January. Today, in North Carolina he was well over 90 percent. In Indiana, Obama won an even higher percentage of the African-American vote.
* Obama still has a lot of work to do with white working-class voters. The risk to his candidacy has less to do with the nomination race than with the fall. In both North Carolina and Indiana, roughly half of Clinton backers indicated that they would not vote for Obama if he is the Democratic nominee in the fall. Most of the voters in that group told exit pollsters they would cast their ballots for Republican John McCain.