Thus is the final battle joined.

Or is it?

Senator Barack Obama will increasingly lean on prominent Democratic women to undercut Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain, dispatching Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to Florida on Monday and bolstering his plan to deploy female surrogates to battleground states, Obama advisers said Thursday…

Obama aides said they were counting on not only Mrs. Clinton but also Democratic female governors to rebut Ms. Palin — and, by extension, Mr. McCain. Those governors include Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas…

“What McCain has done with Governor Palin’s nomination is aim right at a demographic that Obama needs to address quickly: noncollege-educated women,” said Mike McCurry, a former spokesman in the Clinton White House. “They need to maximize Biden’s ability to reach out to them, but at the end of the day, it is Obama who has to get that very, very critical group.”…

Advisers to Mrs. Clinton said that she stood ready to help the Obama-Biden ticket, but they urged the campaign not to overestimate the impact Mrs. Clinton could have, noting that she had other commitments this fall, like campaigning and raising money for Senate candidates.

The CW after Palin’s speech was that Hillary’s the big loser because there’s another prominent woman around to usurp her throne. Just the opposite: Now Her Majesty gets to play kingmaker by dispensing her gender cache to whatever greater or lesser extent she sees fit to counter Palin. Obama’s at her mercy. Either McCain wins and finishes off Obama’s presidential ambitions, clearing the way for her in 2012, or else Obama wins with Hillary’s stature as feminist pope bolstered by having helped keep the sisterhood in the fold. The problem with the second strategy is that if she hits the trail in earnest and McCain wins anyway, it’ll be taken as evidence that her moment with women has passed. Better to sit back, half-ass it, and let the media decide later that she wasn’t really trying so that the thought of her deploying her army of women in 2012 still strikes terror into the GOP’s heart. Which, it sounds like, is what she’s going to do.

Incidentally, am I mistaken or wasn’t the left very indignant indeed last week that McCain would stoop to playing identity politics with women’s votes? And yet here we are, with the Light and the Way set to roll out an army of surrogates to counter Palin, all of whom coincidentally happen to be female. The Times actually played up that fact in its original headline for this story, before surreptitiously changing it sometime last night to make it sound less cynical and damaging to Obama. Althouse caught them in the act. Exit question: How many progressive Obama supporters at the Florida rally will greet Hillary wearing “Bros Before Hos” t-shirts?

Update: Here’s how flat-flooted Team Barry’s been caught: They’re apparently still pushing the Eagleton meme.