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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Would a knock-out or additional rounds be better for the Democrats?

As we await primary election results today, I am wondering about the conventional wisdom that it is good for a party to settle on its Presidential nominee sooner rather than later.  This CV largely prompted the quick embrace of John Kerry in early 2004, and that did not work out so well for the Democrats.  However, it seems that the same CV is dominating a lot of the 2008 campaign thinking.

Nearly all Republicans — save for Governor Huckabee — apparently decided they should quickly put all their eggs in the McCain basket once it was clear other major candidates were not energizing the party.   Similarly, we have heard lots of assertions that it would be bad for the Democrats to continue their campaign deep into the Spring;  I sense many are hoping for one candidate to deliver a knock-out blow in today's voting. 

But could a continuing primary campaign (at least through Pennsylvania) be good for the Democrats for various reasons?  After all, throughout February, each Democratic candidate has raised a lot more money than Senator McCain, and both candidates have energized old and new voters in states that often do not get too much attention.   In addition, a continued primary battle would enable the Democrats to continue to dominate the airwaves, to hone their messages and their political teams, to build ground teams and cultivate local candidates, and to perhaps create the impression that whomever wins the nomination is likely to be the next President. 


Posted by Douglas A. Berman on March 4, 2008 at 04:28 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Hillary Clinton is much more like Mike Huckabee than people are willing to acknowledge. Simply put, there is no math that favors her. Last night was a disaster for Hillary in that it showcased two of her three remaining favorable battleground states, yet she barely squeaked out victories. As the Obama campaign notes today, this was supposed to be her best shot. There were 370 delegates at stake. She won 187-183. That's a net of four delegates. Obama still leads in the pledged delegate count by more than 150 delegates. There are only 611 delegates left. As Jonathan Alter points out in a recent column, even if Hillary won every remaining state 60-40, an unlikely scenario, she would be unable to take the delegate lead.

So her only chance, just as Huckabee's only chance was, is for the frontrunner to stumble so badly that he is no longer viable. Given the Clinton campaign's flexible ethics, that's a real danger for the party.

Hillary Clinton can't win the Presidency any longer. She can win the nomination by damaging Obama so badly that the super delegates desert him, but to do so, she will have to alienate Obama supporters. It's a no win situation.

This is where the super delegates should step in and end this by endorsing Obama en masse. The fifty superdelegates rumored to be held in the wings by the Obama campaign may be the leading edge of exactly this. What is probably restraining them is abhorrence at offending a former President unnecessarily. Look for the dialogue to shift over the next couple weeks, however.

Posted by: Bart | Mar 5, 2008 3:58:56 PM

Interesting ideas. Two problems: First, the CV is based on the assumption that continued campaigning would involve both candidates going negative on one another, thus giving the GOP ammunition to use once we finally get to the general election--the candidates will "soften one another up" for McCain. Second, and relatedly, the mass media and the pundits do not know how to cover a genuine primary contest. The only narratives the press and pundits would know how to draw from continued primary rounds is Democrat(ic) confusion and inability to choose; that inability to choose reflects not that it is a genuine contest between two able and qualified candidates, but that neither candidate appears qualified enough so the electorate cannot pick; and this all is just providing fodder for the other side come the general election. Everything Doug suggests, while true and interesting, would get lost.

Sandy Levinson at Balkinization has an interesting post (http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/03/why-election-systems-matter.html) arguing that the current variance between the parties reflects differences in choice of electoral systems and that the system the Dems have chosen may be more democratic. But those systemic influences similarly get lost in any narrative of events.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 4, 2008 7:24:57 PM

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