The publisher Steve Forbes last night bowed to the logic of Bob Dole's "Super Tuesday" sweep and ended his White House campaign, leaving a chastened but defiant Pat Buchanan as the sole hold-out against the Senate Majority leader's triumphant march to the 1996 Republican presidential nomination.
Mr Forbes's decision, to be announced at an early afternoon news conference here at which he will endorse Mr Dole, follows the Kansan's crushing victories in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee and Oklahoma on Tuesday, which extended his streak of primary wins to 20 and left him with 740 delegates, more than two-thirds of the 996 that will make his nomination a mathematical certainty at the convention in San Diego. So sure now is even the hyper-cautious Mr Dole that he cancelled a scheduled day of campaigning in the Midwest yesterday to attend to Senate business here.
And it is in Washington that the struggle for the White House will be played out over the next few months in an unprecedented legislative and negotiating minuet between a sitting Democratic President and the Republican Senate Majority Leader who be his opponent in the general election.
The battleground will not be rallies and stump meetings around the country, but such familiar Washington soil as welfare reform, a modest overhaul of health care, and the balanced budget. After the ordeal of the campaign trail, Mr Dole will be back to what he enjoys most, the nuts-and-bolts of lawmaking.
Dry and laconic even in his finest moment of the election season thus far, Mr Dole earlier again urged his rivals to withdraw and rally round him for the battle against Mr Clinton in the autumn. He offered no concessions, no deal: "I'm not prepared to negotiate anything with them. If they want to beat Bill Clinton, or if they want to be spoilers, it's their choice."
Mr Forbes, it is clear, will not be a spoiler, accepting that he has no realistic chance of success in what was to have been his last stand in the Midwest on 19 March, when 219 delegates are at stake Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Mr Buchanan however will soldier on, hopeful of causing Mr Dole trouble at least in Michigan, an archetypal old industrial state where the unions are strong and his protectionist stance could play well. Even if he fails, he will not drop out: "Why give up a battle of ideas," he said yesterday, "simply because you're behind in delegates ?"
But in reality the primary season is over, the main unknown now Mr Dole's choice of running-mate. Despite renewed speculation, General Colin Powell is unlikely to be that man, however much Mr Dole might wish it. "I don't see any chance of it," the Republican operative Ken Duberstein, a close friend and adviser of the general, said. When he announced he would not seek the White House last November, General Powell made clear he did not want the vice-presidency, and would not accept it if offered. "Nothing has changed," Mr Duberstein insisted, "the door is slammed, shut, and bolted."