TUESDAY'S primaries and caucuses in 24 states brought some clarity to the presidential nomination picture, but Ohio still has a chance to be an influential gatekeeper on the road to the White House.
Mixed metaphors aside, the Buckeye State's March 4 primary now stands to carry the kind of weight and excitement that political insiders have longed for since Gary Hart upset the eventual Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, here in 1984.
And to think that some political pundits - you know who you are - believed that the nominations in both parties would be virtually sewn up by the time Ohioans had their say. Such are the vagaries of what is turning out to be a spirited primary season.
Easily the most encouraging aspect of Tuesday's coast-to-coast contests was the high voter turnout. The candidates seem to have caught the attention of the electorate, many of them new voters.
It seems to be the personalities that count more than the issues, although the economy, the Iraq war, and immigration - especially in California - continue to play big.
The shifting sand of votes that piled up as the returns came in was hard to make sense of, reflecting as they did the diversity of America. Who got the African-American vote? The women's vote? The Hispanic vote? The urban vote? The regions and the coasts? There were some tentative answers, but no dramatically clear patterns.
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain emerges with a commanding lead. He won nine states, including electoral behemoth California, but he could not vanquish former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney nor former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Mr. Romney won six states; Mr. Huckabee took five, all in the South.
On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won states with the most delegates, while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who continued to draw the largest crowds to rallies, won a greater number of states, leaving him still within striking distance as delegate selection is set in Washington state on Saturday; Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia on Tuesday, and Wisconsin and Hawaii on Feb. 19.
The analysis of who gained the upper hand among the Democrats on Tuesday was made more complex by its system of allocating delegates proportionally to the vote.
For those who seek truth in numbers, the delegate leaders are, for the Republicans, Senator McCain with 613, followed by Mr. Romney with 269 and Mr. Huckabee with 190. That's still far from the 1,191 needed to secure the GOP nomination.
On the Democratic side it is Senator Clinton with 845 and Senator Obama with 765, with 2,025 needed for the nomination.
To add a different metaphor, the primary ball is still very much in play with Ohio yet to take the field.