The Race Goes On

Thursday, April 24, 2008

THE RESULTS of Tuesday's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania guarantee that the nomination contest will continue -- at least for two more weeks, until the voting in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6; at most, and less likely, until the August convention. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 10-point win was substantial enough that she can credibly assert the right to soldier on, but it did not alter the fundamental dynamic of the race. Sen. Barack Obama leads in the delegate count and the popular vote. Ms. Clinton cannot rack up enough votes in the seven contests remaining to overtake him. So does that mean that she ought to quietly fade away? Is she serving only to tarnish Mr. Obama and help Republicans win in November? Have the Democrats -- Ms. Clinton in particular -- crossed the line from appropriately tough to unacceptably ugly campaigning?

Excuse us if we don't join in the general hand-wringing, but our answer to all three questions is no. This is a contest between two formidable candidates, each of whom has proven appeal to millions of voters. The party rules provide for primaries through early June. Why should voters in those states be told, "Never mind"? The lengthy primary contest may not be in the best interest of the Democratic Party, which would rather be gearing up for November, but it has served to clarify the two candidates' strengths and weaknesses -- matters that would come to the fore in the general election anyway. Thanks to the continuing race, Democrats can assess now the impact of Mr. Obama's relationship with his former pastor or his comments about "bitter" working-class voters; likewise, they can take into account Ms. Clinton's rising unfavorability ratings. Democrats can look at the clear demographic divide between the two contenders -- Mr. Obama does better among affluent, better-educated voters; he lags among lower-earning whites, especially men and Catholics -- and decide whether that affects their assessment of the party's chances in November. Information now is better than information later.

In the closing days of the Pennsylvania race, both candidates landed some hard punches but nothing that struck us as egregiously out of bounds. Mr. Obama has shown that he can give as good as he gets from Ms. Clinton -- a quality that he will need if he wins the nomination. In the meantime, it seems to us that the Democrats, having set up a system designed to produce a nominee either too quickly (ridiculously front-loaded primaries) or too slowly (ridiculously proportional selection of delegates) can manage to survive a few more weeks of uncertainty.

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