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8 Questions That Will Shape Where the Race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination Goes From Here
The Democratic race has not produced the kind of deep ideological divisions that make reuniting especially difficult. This race has been a clash of style and personalities, but many Democrats are hopeful that the huge turnouts in the Democratic primaries reflect not just enthusiasm for Clinton and Obama but a deep desire for change after eight years of President Bush.
Not surprisingly, Republicans already see problems. There are still scars from battles in some of the early states, and with a late-August convention, the nominee will have no time to heal the wounds if the contest has left bitterness in the loser's camp, which seems more likely if Clinton is the nominee.
"It is amazing to watch a party that has so much going for it in this election put it all in jeopardy over this contest," Terry Nelson, a veteran of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, said. "But that appears to be the case."
Has McCain succeeded in uniting Republicans behind his bid?
7. If he hasn't, the Democrats and the media have. And Clinton certainly would if she is the nominee. "Republicans are a fall-in-line party, and they've done just that," said Democrat Murphy. "And a little [complaining] from the right wing helps, not hurts, McCain."
Republicans report that the grumbling, even privately, about McCain has begun to subside. Some believe he has more work to do, however, and say his fundraising numbers will help answer how much he has accomplished. But for a candidate who has spent much of his career fighting members of his own party, McCain is doing what he must to bring them around.
Would Clinton or Obama be the stronger foe against McCain?
8. This is the big question that every superdelegate is trying to answer, as are strategists gaming out McCain's prospects in a general election. At this point, there is as much confusion as consensus.
Start with the assessments of Republican strategists. "For the entire campaign I had thought [Obama] would be, but these last few weeks have me rethinking that," noted Tom Rath, a New Hampshire Republican who was in Mitt Romney's camp. "Her resilience and toughness [are] impressing me."
"It's a tossup," Newhouse wrote. "I wasn't looking forward to facing the Obama of two months ago, I'm more encouraged about facing him now, and wonder what the next few months of scrutiny might bring."
"A week ago, I would have said Obama," wrote Nelson, who left as McCain's campaign manager last summer. "Today, I don't know."
Democrats who believe Obama is their best choice cite his message of hope and change, and the energy and enthusiasm it has sparked with a new generation of voters.
They argue that he has more capacity than Clinton to expand the electoral map and to compete in red and purple states more effectively.
They also believe he will provide a more compelling contrast with McCain on issues including age, energy, Iraq and change. "In the end, if this is a big change election, it's just easier for him to claim the mantle of change," Carrick noted.
Those who say Clinton cite her steadiness, her toughness, her resilience and her ability to deliver a strong message on the economy -- a McCain weakness. "She is like a blue-chip company stock price," one strategist said. "Everything is known, and it's all built into the price. So if she's beating McCain now, there's a good degree of certainty she can beat him in the fall."
This debate will continue until the Democratic nominee is known -- and perhaps beyond.