The conventional wisdom says that the Clinton/Obama battle hurts the Democratic Party the longer it drags out, but I disagree. I think that whoever emerges as the nominee could be in a prime position to ride a wave of momentum the whole way to the White House. It is commonly argued that the Democrats are at a disadvantage for the general election campaign by not having their nominee at the earliest possible date, but I think this argument overlooks the value of media coverage. Until the Republican convention, John McCain is going to struggle to stay in the conscience of the voters.
McCain’s current trip to Iraq is an example of the kind of events he is going to have to continually engage in just to stay relevant in the era of the 24 hour cable news cycle. McCain’s biggest problem is that he has nothing to do until the convention, and in this day and age, out of sight really is out of mind to most voters. What makes this even more difficult for McCain is that the Democratic race has captured the imagination of the American public.
It seems that everyone has a favorite, or at least an opinion, on the two Democrats. A very unscientific example is Saturday Night Live. Somewhere in the early part of the show they usually feature something about the Democrats. Last Saturday, it was in the final half hour of the broadcast that they did a sketch about McCain. This was the first McCain sketch I had seen from them since they resumed production.SNL does have its biases, but it is also an accurate reflection of what is hot in pop culture.
Clinton vs. Obama has transcended politics and moved into the realm of pop culture. A convention where the nominee will be determined will focus the nation’s attention on the Democratic Party. It will be historic, and the biggest event on television. Whoever comes out of the convention as the nominee is not only battle tested, but has gotten tons of free media, while John McCain has sat around twiddling his thumbs for months. The whole pick your candidate and unify early strategy hasn’t always worked well for the Democrats. They tried this in 2004, and we all remember how well that went.
Democrats are so motivated to win the White House that I believe they will rally around whoever their nominee is whenever that may be. Their nominee will already have the fundraising advantage, and will be appealing to an electorate that is craving change. Some Republican strategists know that their best hope for retaining the White House is if the Democrats tear the party apart with a brutal primary campaign.
So far, both Clinton and Obama have been careful to avoid this. When they sense things getting too nasty, both camps have developed a habit of pulling back. My own best guess is that the super delegates will go with the delegate leader, and this dispute will be virtually settled before the convention, but my point is that a brokered convention would be far from the worst case scenario for the Democratic Party. In fact, it might be the key to victory.