There’s a lot of debate over whether the endless primary between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is helping or hurting the Democrat’s chances in November. I’m one of those who believe it can be a good thing. The primaries are toughening up the eventual nominee. It’s keeping the focus on the Democratic candidates and their issues. And it’s building important grassroots capabilities throughout the country.
In other words, it’s better to have the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s deplorable rhetoric raised in April than first appear in October. It’s better to have a nationally televised debate on April 16th than to have the Democratic nominee desperately seeking coverage. And it’s better to have Pennsylvania’s on-the-street political operatives well rehearsed.
What’s dangerous, however, is the kind of sniping the candidates and their camps are engaged in. As I’ve written about before, the Democrats are spending too much time doing the GOP’s work. Now the debate is over who is more elitist than the other. Senator Clinton attacks Senator Obama for saying small town Pennsylvania voters are bitter and Senator Obama faults Senator Clinton for being a hunting enthusiast.
Are these really the issues they want to be focused on? What happened to health care and the economy? Peace in the Middle East and maintaining a strong defence? Improving our schools and caring for our aged?
The upcoming debate (Philadelphia on April 16th) is an opportunity for the candidates to get the Democratic story back on track. One of these two Senators is going to be the Democratic nominee. If the debate is substantive and policy oriented, the neverending primary season will be helpful to that eventual winner. If not, the race in November is going to be much closer than it might otherwise have been.