3.28.2008

Dems battle over impact of lengthy primary

With 6 weeks separating the Mississippi and Pennsylvania primary, it was obvious that Clinton would have as tough a time surviving than she did continuing beyond March 4th. And indeed the Obama campaign has been very successful at upping the pressure for Clinton to withdraw for the good of the party. After Chris Dodd's suggesting that the lengthy primary was "devastating" for the party, Senator Leahy of Vermont (an Obama supporter) explicitly called for Clinton to retire from the race today:

There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously that's a decision that only she can make frankly I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate.

I am very concerned... John McCain, who has been making one gaffe after another, is getting a free ride on it because Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have to fight with each other. I think that her criticism is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said. I think that's unfortunate.


Considering that there is speculation that one factor that might push Clinton out of the race is fear that she would damage her Senate career (and her chances, perhaps, of becoming Majority Leader), the reference to a tremendous career in the Senate could even be a veiled threat. In any case, the fact that McCain is now running his first general election ad will likely help Obama supporters make their case.

This talk is, of course, partly an exaggeration to force Clinton out of the race. After all, McCain might be airing ads in New Mexico, but Obama has been airing many in Pennsylvania and just started airing some in Indiana and in North Carolina. All voters will see these ads, not just Democratic voters, and the message in the ads is not necessarily centered on a primary message. One of the ads Obama has been running in Pennsylvania is a biographical ad seeking to introduce himself to voters. If Obama had been the nominee already, he could start airing ads but he would likely not have an excuse to saturate the airwaves without angering and frustrating voters the way he can now.

On the other hands, there is increasing bitterness between supporters of the two camps, and the nominee will have to spend a while mending divisions and unifying the Democratic Party. A central contention of both campaigns is, of course, that the other candidate will not be able to do so.

Whatever the impact of a lengthy primary, Clinton is clearly feeling the heat of the pressure to withdraw and she is responding by... drafting a fundraising plea, making it clear that she is determined to fight on and that calls to get her out of the race are signs that Obama supporters are getting worried about her comeback:

Have you noticed the pattern?

Every time our campaign demonstrates its strength and resilience, people start to suggest we should end our pursuit of the Democratic nomination.

Those anxious to force us to the sidelines aren't doing it because they think we're going to lose the upcoming primaries. The fact is, they're reading the same polls we are, and they know we are in a position to win.

We aren't going to simply step aside. You and I are going to keep fighting for what we believe in, and together, we're going to win.

In a race that is showing no sign of heading to an end, the party elders are trying to find a solution to get the race to not go all the way to the convention, even if Clinton is still alive after the end of the last primaries on June 3rd. Howard Dean proposed a solution today. Dean explained, "I think the candidates have got to understand that they have an obligation to our country to unify. Somebody's going to lose this race with 49.8 percent of the vote. And that person has got to pull their supporters in behind the nominee." And he asked superdelegates to make up their mind by July 1st, 7 weeks or so before the convention. That way, one of the candidates will cross the majority threshold and will emerge as the winner early in the summer. That would still require the loser to not try to change superdelegates votes, but in such a scenario the pressure would likely be too overwhelming for the race to continue.

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