Don't Stop Campaigning

Sunday, March 30, 2008

THE GROWING chorus among some Democrats and other interested observers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) to get out of the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president is troubling. We're not promoting Ms. Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), or either of them over Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), for that matter. A time may come when someone should gracefully bow out. But their extended contest informs the electorate and serves to battle-test them both. We don't see why the process should be short-circuited when millions of votes are yet to be cast and two qualified candidates believe themselves to be the best potential Democratic nominee.

There is no lack of excitement in the Democratic Party. States that have cast ballots have reported record turnouts. Registrations are through the roof. Just last week it was announced in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22, that since November the number of registered Democrats increased by about 161,000. Altogether, Democrats now outnumber Republicans there by about 830,000. And this contest is far from over. While Mr. Obama leads Ms. Clinton in the popular vote and in the number of pledged delegates, it's assumed that neither candidate will win the 2,024 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

One proffered justification for ending the campaign now, in fact, is the assumption that we know pretty much how everything will turn out. Ms. Clinton will win Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama will carry North Carolina and so on. But throughout this campaign, just about everything we've "known" has been wrong: Mr. McCain was finished, Ms. Clinton was inevitable, Mr. Obama had New Hampshire locked up. No doubt the Democrats have gotten themselves into a fix with rules that may leave the final decision to unelected superdelegates -- but why is the answer to that less democracy? Why not give as many voters as possible a chance?

We understand Democrats' concern that Mr. McCain benefits most as their candidates tear each other down. Recent polls show the favorable ratings of both Democratic candidates declining, Ms. Clinton's more than Mr. Obama's. Making the case that you're better qualified inevitably involves, to some extent, explaining that the other candidate is less so. But instead of continuing to blur the line between civil discourse and destructive denunciations, the candidates and their campaigns could talk more substance. Last week they tackled the economy and the mortgage meltdown. But there are plenty more questions for voters to consider. How would the candidates pay for their billions in increased spending on health care, energy and education? With diplomacy toward North Korea faltering, how would they handle its nuclear ambitions? What's the future of affirmative action? The list of issues to hash out is endless, and doing so in polite political combat could produce a stronger Democratic candidate for the fall and a better-informed electorate.

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