SAN ANTONIO — On Tuesday night, as he waited for the election returns from Texas and Ohio, Barack Obama knew that his next moves depended on results that were too close to predict.
If he could defeat Hillary Clinton in both big states, the Illinois senator could all but clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.
He couldn't. Clinton, who earlier had snapped Obama's winning streak at 12 states by winning little Rhode Island, won big Ohio. Then, shortly before midnight, she won bigger Texas, too.
By winning both big states, Clinton stopped cold the 46-year-old freshman senator's run as the unlikely front-runner, and although she's still trailing him in pledged delegates, she got a second wind. That ensures that the contest will drag on at least until Pennsylvania votes on April 22, and probably much longer.
Before the Texas results came in, Obama congratulated Clinton on her wins in Ohio and Rhode Island, but he went on to tell supporters gathered outside San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium in the chilly night how he'd run against Republican John McCain in the general election.
"No matter what happens tonight," he said, "we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination."
In recent weeks, Obama had eroded Clinton's substantial leads in both Texas and Ohio, but in the final days the press had turned on him — at least that's how he felt — beating him up over his campaign's less-than-forthcoming answers about an adviser's discussions with Canadian officials over trade policy and grilling him about his former friendship with a Chicago developer being tried on corruption charges.
On his campaign plane Tuesday afternoon, Obama said that his close loss to Clinton in January's New Hampshire primary, which came after he'd overtaken her in the polls and pundits had predicted that he'd win, had been a defining moment. It taught him, he said, how to cope with hype and survive the backlash of unrealized expectations.
The night before, he'd told fans in Houston: "Here we are with the possibility of winning the nomination. There's a tendency to start feeling kind of like, huh, like things are always going to go the way they should."
Instead, he asked his supporters to remember that "we are willing to go forward even when it's hard. That's the real spirit of hope. We've got to earn this victory."
On Tuesday night, thousands of supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, lawmakers, union members and students gathered in San Antonio, but they weren't allowed past barricades until after 9 p.m. because the Obama campaign wanted all voters to caucus first. In Texas' quirky system, residents can cast primary ballots and then caucus.
Several supporters said they believed that Obama would win the nomination regardless of Tuesday's outcomes and that Clinton's wins in Ohio and Texas would simply delay the inevitable.
But Angela Cordova, 24, a Latina student who first became interested in Obama when she saw him on "Oprah," said: "He definitely needs to win here tonight or it's going to be a much closer race. I feel she could get a second breath after this if she wins."