Super Tuesday was carefully engineered to decisively settle who would be the party’s nominee. And it did. But it was the wrong nominee.

It’s Republican John McCain who has the clear path to the nomination after Mitt Romney bowed to the inevitable and called it quits Thursday.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Hillary Clinton cultivated the role of the “inevitable” nominee and her operatives in the Democratic Party amassed a bloc of primaries and caucuses where her superior organization, name recognition and funding would deliver a knockout to whatever rivals were still standing.

Instead, Clinton and Barack Obama are roughly tied in the number of delegates, and it is they, not the Republicans as expected, who will fight a long and bloody trench war to the nomination.

Democratic national chairman Howard Dean says he’s not going to let that happen, that if there is a deadlock in March and April he will convene a summit and work out some sort of accommodation. Good luck. Neither one of his candidates is campaigning for the role of gracious loser.

Obama appears well funded, but Clinton’s campaign apparently had a near death experience last month when her $100 million war chest ran dry. Several top aides were going without pay, and her run was only saved when Clinton extended her campaign a $5 million loan — she prefers to call it an “investment” — from her personal wealth.

Had that fact become public before Super Tuesday it might have been near-fatal but she disclosed it the day after Super Tuesday and a wildly successful three-day fund-raiding drive has her back in the black and back on the trails.

That infusion of cash allows he to make big bets on the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio. She’ll likely need them because Obama could take most, even all, of the intervening primaries — Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and Washington this weekend; Maryland and Virginia on Tuesday; and Wisconsin on the next Saturday.

The great thing about this presidential nominating contest is how it continues to confound the experts. Remember, McCain was written off dead last summer. Now all those people who wrote him off are his new best friends.

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