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Gary Younge
Game over, game on

It's over. The contest anticipated to be so frontloaded that some states jumped the queue to be first, carried on right to the very last. From New Hampshire to New Mexico, the lines for those waiting to vote and attend rallies have been unprecedented. The Democratic base has never been so energised and rarely been so divided. And this is no regional coastal phenomenon; Iowa and South Carolina mattered. But so to did Texas, Alabama and Puerto Rico too.

Since late February the result has never been in doubt. And yet it was never quite clear how it was going to finish. In the end, it ended in much the same way as it has rumbled on. First, Hillary Clinton went down fighting. For a candidate who could not win either arithmetically - she did not have the votes - or politically - because she did not have the votes, she did not have the support - she kept racking up victories electorally. If she was out, nobody told the people of Puerto Rico or South Dakota. It is a sign of how much work Barack Obama has to do that even as the crown was all but his, the insurrection continued.

But second, as the hard reality of ultimate defeat encroached, Clinton preferred to simply construct a different reality than deal with the one at hand. The vote is over. One by one, the superdelegates are falling into line behind Obama. But at the time of writing, she still has not conceded defeat. Quite what she hopes to achieve at this point, beyond deepening an already rancorous divide, is unclear.

What happens now is truly anybody's guess. The same people who told you that Clinton's nomination was inevitable, that Obama would win New Hampshire and that it would all be tied up by Super Tuesday, will certainly have more predictions. But the only thing we really know coming into the race proper is that anything could happen. These waters are uncharted and decidedly choppy. Among the many things we don't know, is how far and fast the economy will fall; how the situation in Iraq will descend; how many white people and Latinos are prepared to vote for a black candidate; how many black people and young people will show up; and how many white working-class women will vote for an anti-abortionist. When the Democrats have finished picking their scabs, those who backed Clinton will have to decide if the prospect of an Obama presidency is more problematic for them than several more decades of war. The smart money says they will. But there has been a lot of money spent in this election and not all of it smartly.

Only one thing is really clear at this point. Republican nominee John McCain could definitely win. The polls are close. Those who thought this race had dragged on, producing more heat than light and more spleen than solutions, should brace themselves. It's over. And yet the real contest is only just beginning.

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