It’s worth saying that I find Patrick Ruffini’s Hillary Comeback scenario pretty plausible. The Iowa and New Hampshire primaries were really, really, really close together. After tonight, even if she loses, things slow down a bit and give her ample opportunity to mount her comeback.
However, a few caveats.
The widespread assumption seems to be that the path to victory for HRC involves tearing Obama down. That seems a bit doubtful to me. She has a lot of institutional support, endorsements, etc. that were acquired back in the “inevitable” era. Those people will presumably keep standing with her even if it looks like she’ll probably lose. What they won’t want to do is keep standing with her as she smears the front-runner. Lots of Clinton’s supporters were backing her for essentially careerist and opportunistic reasons, and they’re not going to want to be associated with harsh negative campaigning against Obama if it looks probable that Obama will win anyhow.
What she needs to do with her opportunity is do what she didn’t do in the nine months before Iowa: Establish an affirmative rationale for her candidacy. She’s had the advantage for most of the campaign of playing front-runner, parrying attacks, and basically being the default option. That advantage has now become a disadvantage, however, because it means she never really established a core sense of what was supposed to be exciting about a Hillary Clinton administration. She still has time to do that, though, and since most Democrats, unlike most reporters, basically like and respect her, I think people would be very open to her argument. I’ve just never heard what the argument is (and, no, it’s not “experience” ask Bill Richardson and every other “I’m qualified” candidate how that worked out).