Clinton-Obama: perils of a long Democratic battle
A duel that goes for months weakens the winner. Right?
Many Republicans think they may have gained an edge over Democrats by settling their nomination fight relatively early. Their reasoning goes like this: Presumptive nominee John McCain can now rest up, raise money, and hone his talking points for the fall's general-election campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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Some Democrats worry that this analysis is right. Their party is again demonstrating its love of damaging disunity, goes their thinking. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama appear poised to slug it out for months – leaving the eventual victor exhausted, broke, and ill-prepared to take on a GOP opponent.
Maybe so, say experts – and maybe not. Recent history shows it's just as likely that the winner of a tough intraparty fight will emerge toughened and energized for the fall. The key may not be the length of the Democratic campaign, but its nature and tone.
"It's really the circumstances," says Bert Rockman, a political scientist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. "The Democrats, it's their election to lose, which doesn't mean they can't do it."
For his part, Senator McCain can now begin planning his convention balloon drop. Mike Huckabee may continue to campaign and even win state contests, such as in Kansas and Louisiana on Saturday, but the former Arkansas governor now is decidedly behind McCain in delegates.
The need for party unity was one reason Mitt Romney gave for his withdrawal from the race on Feb. 7 – and in the months ahead, unity certainly will have its advantages. The McCain camp can now rest and reformulate its strategy for the general campaign. It can raise money without worry about partisan competition and try to make connections with still-angry conservatives.
McCain will have time to try to exert authority over the various arms of the party's national organization, as well as state parties. He can travel abroad, meet foreign leaders, and appear presidential. He won't have to worry about making a gaffe under the pressure of debate with a party opponent.
Meanwhile, all signs continue to point to an extended, closely fought Democratic nomination battle. Senator Obama's weekend victories in the Louisiana primary and caucuses in Nebraska and Washington State sliced into Senator Clinton's slim delegate lead, leaving the two contenders virtually tied as they head toward contests Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.