Count It!

Barack Obama finally has a big-state primary win that the Clinton campaign can’t question. When he won the Illinois primary on Super Tuesday, it was because he had home-field advantage. When he beat her in Georgia it was because of the high number of African-Americans in the state. When he barely beat her in Missouri, the slim margin suggested it wasn’t all that important of a win. But tonight those caveats don’t apply. He won in the 12th-most populous state in the union, which is 20 percent black. And exit polls suggest he didn’t just win, he strutted to victory.

For Obama, this begins to erase another of his weaknesses. First, the pundits complained that he could win only caucuses—Super Tuesday proved that wrong. Next, they said he couldn’t reliably attract white voters— increased gains (and even some wins) among whites put that idea to rest. (Tonight he was essentially tied with her among whites .) The most recent knock was that he couldn’t win the big states—the ones that mattered in the election. Virginia isn’t the biggest win imaginable, but it should chop down some of the talk and boost Obama’s delegate lead. (We won’t know by how much until the proportional-allotment dust clears late tonight.) Plus, all three of tonight’s contests carry symbolic capital—if the Washington area favors Obama in the primary, then they probably wouldn’t mind him living there for four years. It’s like an early Valentine’s Day card.

For Clinton, this is a disappointing—but expected—defeat. She sank resources into the state, spending time there herself and sending Bill and Chelsea out on the trail for her. But her attention is already elsewhere. She’s spending the night in Texas, which doesn’t vote until March 4, and Bill Clinton is on his way to Wisconsin, which votes in a week.

Before tonight, Barack Obama had won nine primaries , but only two of them—Illinois and Georgia—were in the 15 most populated states in the country. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, had won six of them (including Michigan and Florida). But soon Obama will be tested again in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—all among top 10 biggest in the country. Now he knows that he can win big-state primaries. More importantly, Hillary does, too.