Pennsylvania's moment in the sun Tuesday brought a dark cloud with a sliver of a silver lining, one that can only be attractive to the many supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
To give Mrs. Clinton her due, the former first lady scored a solid victory in the Democratic primary and her campaign, plainly doomed just months ago, now claims to be re-energized. For her purposes, a 9.2 point margin -- slightly tighter than originally reported -- was as good as a landslide. Her prospects have changed from doomed to merely unlikely.
Therein lies the problem. The Democratic nomination has come to resemble Iraq. A war that seemed to be over has flared up anew with a startling viciousness. At the end of the Pennsylvania campaign, both sides were trading blows as if their opponent were a Republican, but Mrs. Clinton stooped lower, even genuflecting to Karl Rove's politics of fear with an ad that summoned the bogeyman, Osama bin Laden, to make her case.
All this for a victory that realistically neither she nor Sen. Barack Obama can win in the remaining primaries, guaranteeing that the issue will go to the convention and certain, bitter controversy. Like Iraq, there is no real victory to be won as long as the fighting goes on and lays waste to all it touches.
If he wins at the convention, which still seems likely, Mr. Obama will no longer seem to be the hope of a new day. Already his star has been battered and it will be mauled some more before this is over. Already it is said that he may go directly on attack, which would subvert his claim that he is a different sort of politician.
But he has to do something. Mrs. Clinton will go on manufacturing questions that the Republicans will continue to exploit in the fall. Faithful to what she says, her own followers will be the first to believe them.
If Mrs. Clinton somehow manages to capture the nomination, she will seem less the bold fighter than someone who has pushed her all-consuming ambition beyond the best interests of her party. In her negativity, she will have reminded Americans across the country of the seamier side of the Clinton years.
Worst of all, she will have rebuffed the grass-roots army that is Mr. Obama's fresh and vital contribution to the campaign -- young people, independents, former Republicans, the great hope of a Democratic Party revival.
Pennsylvania could have put a stop to this civil war, but the voters were not inclined to think their votes through. In this old commonwealth, older voters voted the old way, going with the familiar name and face, returning an emphatic "No, we can't." There were communities where voters put aside their resistance to change and voted for Mr. Obama -- the city of Pittsburgh, among them -- but not enough to matter. Allegheny County pretty much tracked the state.
Now it will be up to other states such as Indiana and North Carolina to stanch the bleeding that just keeps flowing. With a Bush administration legacy of ill-advised war and economic woe, the Democrats would have to go out of their way to lose the general election -- and in Pennsylvania they unthinkingly went down that road.
No, the real winner in Pennsylvania was not Hillary Clinton but John McCain, waiting patiently in the wings to pick up the shattered pieces of the Democratic idols. He of all people has to love that the Democratic nominating process has turned into its own Iraq.