(CNN) -- It was a bubble and it burst.
Democrats are braced for a long, bruising White House battle after Hillary Clinton halted Barack Obama's string of primary wins.
The growing American infatuation with Barack Obama had to pop eventually and this week, the cult of personality finally got punctured.
Obama's run for the presidency is hardly over, but it's a little deflated. For now, the fun is over and the fight is on.
Looking back, the Illinois senator with the illuminated smile had it pretty good. The media were gentle and admiring, party leaders felt pressure to embrace him, and ordinary Democrats got more excited about him than any politician in at least a decade.
Cute new catch-phrases made the rounds about "Oba-mania" and America's new "Barack-star."
Obama won 11 consecutive primaries and caucuses, and he won again this week in the state of Vermont.
But that was as far as his extraordinary charisma and expertly run campaign could get him.
This week there were suddenly reports that while Obama was telling voters he'd get tough on foreign trade, a campaign aide was telling neighboring Canada that Obama didn't mean it.
(Obama says he told the truth about his plans and his aide never said otherwise).
There was suddenly new attention to his ties to a businessman who is on trial for corrupt deals with the Illinois state government.
(Obama says he was unwise to associate with the man but said he, personally, did nothing illegal).
There were particularly pointed Clinton campaign ads asking voters who they would want in the White House to an answer an emergency phone call at 3 a.m.
(Obama attacked the ads but they did succeed in reminding voters that he's running for president after less than four years in national politics).
Hillary Clinton's tireless campaigning was probably the key to her victories this week, in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island.
But the damage is done. Obama's winning streak is over. The competition for the Democratic nomination will continue and now get more complicated:
Obama is still ahead in the number of delegates who will choose the party's nominee but Clinton is close behind. The near-tie may last for weeks or even months of hard and nasty campaigning.
Expect fewer funny new Obama phrases and more talk about that now infamous imaginary phone call.
It had to happen.
Nobody gets to live in a bubble forever. E-mail to a friend