Democrats need to make up their mind. Do they want every vote to count or not?
If they really do believe no vote should be left behind, then they should stop urging Hillary Clinton to quit the race. Not only does she have every right to fight on against the odds, but voters in the 10 remaining contests, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana, are entitled to a say in this nomination battle.
Barack Obama's confidence appears to be giving way to smugness lately. He said last week Clinton can stay in the race as long as she wants to. As far as he and his supporters are concerned, the Fat Lady sang for Clinton weeks ago and it's all over but the crying.
Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But shouldn't we at least wait for the voters still to be heard from to cast their ballots before placing the crown on Obama's head? Surely, the Obama campaign would not suggest that their votes don't matter.
It was not that long ago that some pols and pundits were predicting that a Democratic nominee would emerge from the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday voting in two dozen states. It didn't work out that way, but if it had, Democratic voters in the 19 states yet to vote would have effectively been disenfranchised, not that party leaders or the candidates would have cared.
We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that popular will nominates and elects presidents. The fact is, winning the popular vote does not guarantee a candidate the nomination or the keys to the White House. The primary system is designed to favor establishment candidates with star power and huge campaign war chests and to produce a front-runner after a handful of early contests, with Iowa and New Hampshire exerting a disproportionate influence in the winnowing process.
In the Democratic primaries and caucuses, delegates count more than the popular vote. For example, Clinton won the Texas primary, but Obama came out ahead in delegates. And in the general election, it is the Electoral College votes — not the popular vote — that elects a president.
Bill Clinton gave Democrats some good advice the other day. "We are going to win this (November) election if we just chill out and let everybody have their say,'' he said.
Some nervous party leaders and Obama supporters may think this primary campaign has gone on too long, but ordinary voters want this historic contest to continue until the last vote is counted in early June. So far, 26-million voters have cast ballots in this primary campaign, and have done so with enthusiasm. Voter registration is soaring and young people, for a change, have taken a keen interest in presidential politics.
It's true that an extended struggle could leave the party bitterly divided going into the fall campaign against Republican John McCain. However, it is not the length of the campaign that risks damaging the party but the candidates' sharp personal attacks on each other. If the candidates were engaged in a serious debate on important issues instead of sniping at each other, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the campaign has gone on too long. The longer the campaign, the more time to test and vet the candidates.
Super Tuesday voters did not know about Obama's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah "God damn America'' Wright, or that Clinton's story about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire when she was first lady was a lie, as was her explanation that she "misspoke.'' These kind of revelations can sway voters. Who knows what may yet pop up.
Meanwhile, Clinton vows to take her long-shot campaign all the way to the August convention if necessary. She may not be able to overcome Obama's advantage in pledged delegates, but she knows Obama will end up short of the magic number and will have to rely on superdelegates to put him over the top. Clinton's last-ditch strategy is to create enough doubt about Obama's electability to sway enough superdelegates her way. Maybe the Clinton gang thinks Obama will do something stupid, like announce that he intends to choose the Rev. Wright as his running mate.
The Clinton script for an upset goes like this: Suppose she has a streak of victories in the remaining contests and passes Obama in total popular vote. And suppose that Obama has a major stumble, or tanks with white voters who can't understand why he would embrace as his "spiritual adviser'' a fiery pastor known for his outrageous and bigoted ravings. Under this scenario, the momentum would shift to Clinton, a political turn that superdelegates would have to consider before taking sides.
Remember, Democrats created this nominating process some are now cursing. Maybe things would have worked out differently if party leaders had not eliminated the winner-take-all delegate rule to placate Jesse Jackson back in the '80s. As it turns out, the real beneficiary of the new rule, which gives candidates a proportional share of a state's delegates based on the popular vote, is Barack Obama. Who knows, if the party had stayed with the old rule, Hillary Clinton might be working on her acceptance speech by now, instead of praying for a miracle.