WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders resigned themselves Wednesday to a prolonged and potentially damaging battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for their party’s presidential nomination, but said they will push for a quick conclusion to the intraparty warfare once the primaries end in early June.
Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania stilled talk that she should consider quitting the race before the end of the primaries because of Obama’s significant advantage in pledged delegates. But party leaders were split about the potential consequences of another six weeks of tough campaigning by the two candidates.
“What happened yesterday was what a lot of us were afraid would happen,” Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said. “There is no clear resolution. She did a little better than expected, but they’re still standing there, slugging it out. Everybody’s getting bloody and there’s no knockouts. It helps prolong that.”
Party leaders expressed concern that, as Clinton and Obama continue to focus on one another, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, is getting a free ride as he reintroduces himself around the country and begins laying out his platform for the general election.
But Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said he is “less concerned than a lot of Democrats” about the consequences of the nominating contest, noting that the primaries are drawing hundreds of thousands of new voters to the party rolls and that in 60 days, that will be more important than the combat between Clinton and Obama.
Dean echoed the view of others that Clinton’s 10-point victory in Pennsylvania, which matched her victory margin in Ohio last month, earned her the right to press ahead with her underdog candidacy. “I think she certainly has a lot to be proud of,” he said. “I wouldn’t think anybody would drop out at this point nor have I ever suggested anyone should.”
Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., an uncommitted superdelegate, agreed. “I’m not going to tell her to drop out,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell someone that just won a major primary by 10 points to drop out.”
But Dean also reiterated his call for uncommitted superdelegates to move quickly once the primaries are over to declare their allegiance and end the Clinton-Obama contest before it does lasting damage to the party’s hopes of winning the White House in November. “We’d like to know who the nominee is by the end of June,” he said.
Bredesen, who earlier proposed that superdelegates convene in June to express their preferences, said party leaders have an obligation to force some kind of action in June to end the nomination battle.
“The time is coming when the Democratic Party steps up and exercises leadership to resolve this issue,” he said. But he added pointedly, “I just don’t think hope can be the entire strategy.”
Obama picked up the support of two Democratic superdelegates Wednesday, while Clinton snared one more. Obama leads the overall delegate race with 1,723 to Clinton’s 1,592, according to the Associated Press. Clinton leads among superdelegates 259-235, a margin that has been steadily shrinking over the past six weeks.