While every expert said the temporary gas tax cut was terrible policy, pretty much every pundit said it was great politics, showing Clinton knew how to connect with voters better than Obama.
After Clinton grasped for the pander move, Obama saw an opening.
Draw a stark contrast between their approaches to politics, move media focus to a substantive policy conflict and burnish the overriding message on which his campaign has long been based.
There wasn't much outward bluster. But it took much inner toughness to plant that flag and stick with it.
The result: a big 15-point victory in North Carolina, and thin 2-point loss in Indiana (with Operation Chaos perhaps illegitimately creating Clinton's margin of victory).
Notably, Obama triumphed in the exit polls on the question of who is "honest and trustworthy." 49% in NC and 45% in IN said Clinton was not honest. Only 27% and 30% respectively said the same of Obama.
He not only won the most votes and delegates yesterday, he won them in the right way -- in a way that bolsters his message, forges trust and helps build a governing mandate.
Clinton sought to undermine him not simply with a pander move, but with continued borrowing of right-wing frames and arguments (obliterating Iran, deriding expert policy recommendations, mocking fellow Dems as "elitist.") You can't build a governing mandate that way.
But that's a moot point, because she lost the argument and the night. And in all likelihood, the nomination.