Hillary Rodham Clinton began her presidential quest armed with talent, tenacity, fame, money, connections and a team that knew how to win.
Many people believed her victory in the Democratic nomination battle was a sure thing. Her ultimate failing may have been in believing it, too.
Clinton had one big problem out of the gate: 40 percent or more of Americans said they'd never vote for her. She was too polarizing. It's love her or hate her.
Clinton powered through that hurdle in state after state, showing grit that earned her the valuable political currency of being merely admired.
White men, blue-collar workers, socially conservative Democrats-- however you slice the electorate, she brought many of those people to her side, over time, and took the edge off the Hillary haters.
Voters, whose No. 1 concern had been ending the Iraq war, started worrying more about the economy. That was a switch from his strength to hers.
Despite all that, her campaign is on the ropes. Clinton is fighting on for a prize few believe she can win anymore, barring some game-changing development.
Clinton's fortunes rose and fell like a fever chart: She was down in Iowa, up in New Hampshire, down in South Carolina. Then, after a roughly even finish with Barack Obama on Super Tuesday, she suffered a string of unanswered losses that, almost before Clinton noticed, put Obama so far ahead in the delegate hunt that all the big-state victories she piled up couldn't close the delegate gap.
Clinton once said she is the most famous person no one knows, meaning Americans don't really get her.
Sixteen months after she opened her campaign sitting on a couch in a cozy online video, it's questionable whether people ever discovered the authentic Clinton.
Is she the whiskey-downing pit bull of Indiana? The near-tears softy of New Hampshire?
The technocrat of health care reform or the populist who dismisses policy wonks as out-of-touch elitists?
"They know that I can make decisions," she said in New Hampshire, "but I also want them to know I'm a real person."
Even many of the New York senator's supporters thought she would say anything to win, or be anyone.
These are some of the paradoxes and missed opportunities that will be examined by the cottage industry sure to arise to explore the what-ifs of Clinton's campaign.
By now, it's common knowledge that she planned to wrap up the nomination in early February. It was a reasonable assumption in 2007 but there wasn't much of a Plan B when that didn't work out in 2008.
"Her inevitability was based on a concept that no one would have the gumption or the resources or drive to get in _ anyone with serious chances," Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic chairman and Barack Obama supporter, said after her Super Tuesday strategy fell short.
"They had an inevitability strategy, which was sort of a political Maginot line. It was illusionary. You just went around it, and, you know, Barack Obama did that."
David Gergen, a senior adviser to a succession of presidents from both parties, thought she was not well served by her team, citing "elements of malpractice in this campaign."
Any failed campaign is a combination of what the fallen did wrong, what the victor did right and happenstance.
Did her loose cannon of a husband shoot a hole through their own hull?
Did Florida and Michigan help to blow it for her in their rogue rush to hold early primaries against party rules, a move that sidelined delegates from two big states open to her?
Questions like that go into the same file with Ralph Nader-2000. Pundits will chew them over without ever being able to prove the answer, just as no one knows for sure whether Nader's candidacy robbed Al Gore of the presidency.
Clinton was on a springtime roll until Tuesday, when she lost big in North Carolina and barely prevailed in Indiana. …