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Putting a Democratic Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has won 11 straight nominating contests, most by double digits and many by more than 20 points. In exactly one week, voters in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont will determine if the race for the Democratic nomination will last a few more weeks or, as Bill Clinton predicted, be over.

[IMGCAP(1)]Regardless of where you stand in this historic election season, Obama’s post-Super Duper Tuesday victories were nothing short of phenomenal. He won elections in every point of the American compass: east, west, south, north, northeast, northwest, southwest, and the heartland. He won traditional Democratic voters in the so-called red, blue and purple states while wooing and winning independents and even some Republicans. As a result, the once insurgent candidate is now in the driver’s seat for the Democratic nomination.

If Obama, who pundits declared had gotten off to a shaky start a year ago, had lost 11 primary contests in a row, no one — and I mean no one, including myself — would take his campaign seriously at this point. And that’s the gospel truth.

The reason everyone still takes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign seriously after 11 consecutive losses is simple: No one is willing to discount the possibility that the Clinton campaign will go to the mat to destroy Obama or try to change the rules in the middle of the game. Clinton’s vow to actually win a few states in the next few weeks sounds like the tried-and-failed “Giuliani strategy.” Maybe it’s a New York thing.

Over the weekend, Clinton appeared at the annual State of the Black Union symposium moderated by public radio and PBS host Tavis Smiley at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina victims were stranded for days without food, water or medicine. Throughout the long day of presentations, Smiley focused on the question all Democrats are asking themselves: “Somebody is gonna win, somebody is gonna lose — so how do we ensure that the party comes together after this very exciting and exhilarating campaign season?”

Besides sitting in the same arena in Denver later this summer, the pledged delegates and superdelegates will have something in common after all. Both classes of delegates (I am still an uncommitted superdelegate) will now have to decide how to end this truly unconventional nominating contest. Both will have to agree on the steps we are willing to take to unify the party, including how to handle the situation in Florida and Michigan. Perhaps the candidates could give us something to chew on by spending the next few days discussing the great issues of our day and not causing any more rifts in the party.

Let’s start with the political conduct and tone of the former frontrunner and now underdog in the race. I am among those who refuse to hand Clinton a pink slip. She’ll have to get that straight from the voters.

While it’s still technically possible for Clinton to win (by capturing almost 65 percent of the remaining pledged delegates and perhaps 70 percent of the uncommitted superdelegates), just imagine what it will take for her to garner that kind of support. At the very least, she’ll have to change her message, again.

Whether delivered through a poisoned arrow or not, a message capable of transforming her losing streak into a tsunami of victories will lead to a knockdown, drag-out brawl of a campaign that might leave the excited voters dispirited and unwilling to come together this summer. The last thing the Democrats need is a raucous-style 1968, 1972 or 1980 convention.

But if it comes to a fight over seating the Michigan and Florida delegates based on the current rules, all bets would be off.

Now let’s turn some attention to Obama, the presumed frontrunner and former underdog. As described to me by a committed superdelegate for Obama, the party faces a serious problem in rejecting Obama. Not only has Obama stirred up something quite unusual in American politics, his young and idealistic supporters as well as his older and cynical supporters now firmly believe he can win both the primary and general elections.

Think about it. In the beginning, many black voters simply refused to believe in the candidate of change and clung to Hillary until the voting started in Iowa; now they not only believe he can become president, they also are working overtime with others to see it happen.

And this is not a “black thang” either. It’s an American moment like none other — which brings me to how this should end — if we’re near closing time.

As Democrats, we should not “mess with hope.”

Now is the time for pledged and superdelegates alike to start putting some handwriting on the wall as to when this race might be declared over. Maybe superdelegates won’t have to formally commit our votes to either candidates, but we certainly should start talking about how we will pull all the pieces of the party back together and come up with a winning strategy to get to 270 electoral votes in November.

Somebody will win and somebody will lose.

Both candidates can and should continue to inspire voters who have spoken through their ballots, their checkbooks and their hopes for the future — that they truly want change and a new direction.

This is the win-win scenario everyone should embrace in the coming primary contests.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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