This presidential primary season began with most of us assuming Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination quickly and the Republicans would go on battling it out perhaps all the way to the convention. Even after Iowa little had changed in that thinking. Obama looked like an easy winner and no one thought Mike Huckabee would walk to the finish line without first having to fight off John McCain in the west, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in the northeast and Fred Thompson in the south.
But we could not have been more wrong. McCain walked to the finish line, while the Democrats can’t even seem to locate the track. But is this long fight between the two popular senators really damaging the party’s chances to win in November? That is the question that seems to get asked of every pundit on cable news. A few of them think it is not hurting the Democrats chances significantly, that exposure can only be a good thing and that the general election is too far off to worry about now. But I just can’t agree with that assessment.
There are good primaries and there are bad primaries. A good primary battle is a policy-based primary battle. In the Democrats case this would be an ideological left versus center battle, think Jerry Brown against Bill Clinton. It would be a fight where the direction of the party is defined for the general election. In the past Democrats of fought over foreign policy, trade agreements, and other such topics and came out of the primary process with a nominee whose ideas are supported by the majority of the party and have had the benefit of months worth of debates, stump speeches and town hall meetings to introduce those ideas to the voters. This would be a long, hotly contested but good primary.
But that is not at all what we have here. Clinton and Obama are remarkably close on many policies. Sure there are small differences in healthcare proposals and even some big differences in foreign policy. But that is not what the media is discussing when covering these two candidates. Instead we have tax records, former pastors, and exaggerations. These are the things that can not help a candidate in November. They can only hurt.
This is why it is perfectly fine for many in the party to call for this to be decided sooner rather than later. Perhaps it is not decided just yet, but if the Democrats continue on this path past early May and onto the convention they will be handing a big advantage to the Republicans. Since these two candidates are so close on policy, the Democrats must ask themselves if this is really worth it.