Right up until the end, a part of me really wanted her to pull it off. Oh sure, I grant the Obamaniacs everything: Hillary's divisiveness, her baggage, her "likeability issue"-all fueled by her special blend of moral flexibility and arch moralism. On a good day, Hillary Clinton rubs approximately half the country the wrong way. And as her fading primary prospects made the good days ever rarer, the candidate, her team, and most particularly that unhinged husband of hers pulled a variety of stunts that reminded all of us exactly how fatiguing the Clintons can be.

Still it breaks my heart to see her laid low.

Part of it, I suspect, is the feminist within. Deep down, I believe there's a snowballs chance of a woman being elected president in my lifetime, and I'll admit to having enjoyed watching Hillary push the system. More specifically, I've always thought Hil has gotten a raw deal: Conservatives demonized her for embodying shifting cultural mores. Many of the rest of us seemed to fault her for being pricklier and less charming than her husband. He may have been grasping, rapacious, slippery, and vulgar, but he was just so effusive and homey and hard to hate (until recently--in service of her campaign, it is certain to be noted). She, on the other hand, always struck us as too obviously cold and calculating.

And yet Hillary is the one who has collected a militantly loyal circle of friends and followers over the years. It is easy to poke fun at the cultishness of Hillaryland gals, with their locked-lipped, obsessive devotion to the group's namesake. But the women themselves are an exceedingly likeable, unnervingly impressive lot, all of whom hold Hillary--and specifically her humanity--in the highest regard. For all her flaws, it says something about the much-maligned Senator Clinton that she has inspired such enduring loyalty and affection.

This is not to say that the Hillaryland family in particular hasn't been a nightmare to cover. It is the nature of the beast that journalists see the dark side of their subjects. And while chronicling the campaign's foibles, I was repeatedly accused by staff and supporters alike of being out to get their gal. (My favorite moment was when now-campaign manager Maggie Williams huffily accused me of calling her a liar--as she was blatantly lying to me about how smoothly things were going in her service as a mere "utility player" to then-campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.) But I always got the sense that these women cared about their candidate, which made the ass-chewings more comprehensible, if not any more pleasant.

There's little doubt that it is time--arguably well past time--for Hillary to cede the field. Lingering would only damage the party in which she clearly aspires to have a future. More selfishly, I'll admit to being exhausted of listening to Hil's outraged critics imbue her every word and action with the most venal motives imagineable. (Oh my God! She must be hoping some nutjob supporter will take the RFK hint and assassinate Obama!)

But even now I am sad to see her go. Or rather, I am sad that things turned out such that she so clearly has to go. I emailed a handful of her advisors today about what they considered to be the highlights of this primary-what moments made them the proudest of their campaign or candidate. Only a few responded, and only one response stuck with me. Referring to this evening's much-discussed presser, and on the clear assumption that Hillary will concede, an advisor wrote back: "I think I will be incredibly proud of her tonight."

It's enough to make a grown woman cry. 

--Michelle Cottle