Why The Clinton vs. Obama Slugfest Will Help Dems In The Fall

I don’t buy the argument (also here and here) that the nomination battle being waged between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will somehow hinder Democrats’ chances of retaking the Presidency in November. In fact, I honestly believe that in the long run it will have the opposite effect.

First, consider the immense television coverage Democrats continue to receive as a result of their protracted race. In early March, for example, an editorial in USA Today noted that “John McCain’s improbable Republican nomination has been overshadowed by the sound and fury of the Democrat donnybrook between New York Sen. Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.” Similarly, a Newsday.com editorial suggested that with all the commotion on “the Democratic front, it’s been hard for the Republican nominee to command attention.”

Although much of the coverage afforded to the Democratic Party thus far has been negative – a result of the inevitable mud-slinging between candidates that occurs in long races – as the old saying goes, ‘bad news is better than no news’ (or something). Moreover, as attacks between the campaigns mount, so too do the nationally televised rebuttals. Obama’s historic race speech is but one example of the positive coverage these controversies can generate.

Second, a drawn out race means the eventual Democratic nominee will have endured several months of campaign trench warfare. As Scott Olin Schmidt argues, this will have the effect of “innoculat[ing] the eventual nominee from Republican attacks.” Indeed, Obama has already emerged relatively unscathed from controversies surrounding his relationships with Tony Rezko and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, while Hillary’s (and Bill’s) shortcomings have been rehashed countless times in attack ads and on talk radio. As a result, Republican operatives will likely be hard pressed to uncover anything damaging about either candidate that hasn’t already made its way into national headlines. In other words, come Fall, McCain will be joining battle with far less ammunition than his opponent.

Even more worrisome for the McCain team are recent polls suggesting he is trailing Clinton by 2 points and leading Obama by only 9 points. If the naysayers were correct about the negative impact of the extended Democratic nomination process, surely the Arizona senator should be enjoying a wide margin by now. Clearly, McCain’s inability to pull away from either Clinton or Obama is a sign of things to come. If he can’t command a decisive lead now, how does he expect to win when Democrats stop fighting themselves and start reminding Americans that Bush is a Republican?

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