Two months ago the Democrats were looking at numerous positive signals for their chances in the November election. First the polls of a generic Democrat versus a generic Republican showed Democrats leading by a spread of over 10 points. The leader of the Democratic field, Barack Obama, enjoyed a substantial lead over the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
To make matters better for the Democrats the Republicans were going through an ideological schism. The conservative wing of the Republican Party was split over two nominees Huckabee and Romney allowing for a moderate, John McCain, to take control of the primary. And the right wing of the Republican Party was uneasy with John McCain over his moderate political views and a perception that he thumbed his nose at the party on occasion. Uneasy might be an understatement considering Republican voice pieces like Rush Limbaugh were issuing almost daily attacks on McCain who had all but wrapped up the nomination.
On the opposite side of the aisle Democrats for the most part seemed relatively happy with their two choices of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Their were some in the party that talked of a dream ticket with Barack and Hillary running as president and vice president the only question was who would be at the top of the ticket.
Fast forward a few months. John McCain has secured the nomination. While the conservatives have not fallen in love with John McCain the heated exchanges have lessoned. On the other hand the contest between the former Democratic dream team of Clinton and Obama has turned into a bare knuckle fight. While pleasantries still exist they are simply the occasion respite from an increasing acrimonious fight. To make matters worse the primary fight is increasing drawn along race, gender and income lines. Women and poorer Democrats are going with Clinton. More affluent democrats and African Americans are siding with Barack. Many woman feel Obama is a johnny come lately smooth talking guy that is stealing the title role from a woman that has worked long and hard. Which in some cases parallel feelings they have about what has happened to them in the workplace in real life.
On the other hand suggestions by people in the Clinton campaign that Obama has gotten a free ride because of his race has certainly turned off many potential voters. Also if Clinton wins the nomination its likely she will do so by winning more superdelgates but losing in the race for delegates that are elected by popular election. Leading democratic primary voters to feel they elected Obama but the party elite ignored their voice and put Clinton into the driver’s seat instead. In addition, there are problems with two states that will play an important part in the general election, Michigan and Florida. The Democratic Party is not counting their primary results because they violated rules and held their elections early. Now the primary is so close some voters in those states feel that their votes are being ignored. All of this is to say that many voters in the Democratic primary election might not go with the eventual nominee either because they might have hard feelings against the party or the eventual nominee.
To make matters worse the two candidates are ripping each other to shreds and providing sound bites and lines of attack for the Republicans to use in the general election. In fact we are already seeing this reflected in the polls. The CNN Poll conducted on 2/1/08 had Obama leading McCain 52 to 44. The CNN Poll conducted on 3/14/2008 had Obama leading 47 to 46. All of this has happened while Clinton and Obama are spending money hand over foot and McCain is quietly raising money.
So what should the Democratic Party do to stop the bleeding? First they need to hold rehold primaries in Florida and Michigan. Howard Dean has said they need to save money for the general election. But if the primaries are not held they risk annoying voters in two states that will have very important roles in the 2008 general election. Second the super delegates need to switch to Obama and end the primary. This is not to endorse the policies or leadership ability of either candidate. But simply that at this point its very unlikely Clinton can win the primary. Although Obama lead is not huge at this late stage its probably insurmountable. Even though Clinton has more super delegates she needs to win 58.8 percent of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination while Obama only needs to win 43.5 of the remaining delegates. Adding to the fact that Obama has won more delegates in 13 of the last 15 contests. Otherwise the Democratic Party will keep damaging itself before the general election.