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A Word to the Superdelegates: It’s Party Unity, Silly

Despite losing former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat this weekend in Illinois, the Republican Party must be chuckling at the prospects of a wounded and deeply divided Democratic Party fighting to regain the White House and expand its majorities in Congress.

[IMGCAP(1)]The prospects of Democratic presidential contenders Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) winning by tearing each other apart with the kind of ridiculous negative campaigning that has sown seeds of discord inside the Democratic Party should be a wake-up call not only to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, but to other noncommitted superdelegates such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).

Most superdelegates I talk to on a daily basis care about winning back the White House as well as expanding the number of seats Democrats hold in Congress. That’s why states such as Alaska, Louisiana, Kansas, Alabama and others also will matter this fall. They have Congressional candidates similar to Democrat Bill Foster, who beat a Republican for Hastert’s seat, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Superdelegates must put all of this in context because this race is headed into uncharted waters. There are weeks or perhaps months until the nominee is decided; the race might come down to who has the momentum, who has won more pledged delegates or who is more electable.

But we need to add to more critera: who is winning by playing by the rules and who can help pull the party together to lead the fall campaign — where so much is at stake.

Momentum matters, but so does the math. Going forward, superdelegates will continue to hear arguments that the person who won the big states (California, New York, New Jersey) will have more electoral votes to play with than the person who won the smaller states that Democrats have not carried since 1964.

Honestly, Democratic leaders should not be swayed by who has more fuel in their tank and who came out ahead in traditional Democratic states such as California, New York, Illinois or New Jersey. It’s true these big states have given Democrats the chance of winning back the White House, but there is no need to divide voters based on where they live when Democrats need some of the smaller states to help them expand their Congressional majority.

Democrats also need every state, every voter and every constituency to try to build a governing coalition in 2009 and beyond.

Every political office should matter, including gubernatorial, mayoral and local county sheriff — as well as having both candidates respect the rules even in states where the locals have decided to hold caucuses to help rebuild the party rather than primaries, which give more voters the option of participating in the electoral process.

Fairness in the process does matter. And now that the state leaders in Florida and Michigan are considering do-overs (which the current rules allow), they too must adhere to other party rules that guarantee fairness, equal representation and the protection of the integrity of the electoral process.

Rules matter, and if officials in those two states decided to “get back in the fold,” they must be in complete compliance with the rules that 48 states, the District of Columbia and the territories agreed to abide by in deciding to help select the next president of the United States. No shortcuts should be allowed, and the entire process must be transparent, with accountability at every step of the process.

Do-overs must be done with great care as to not cause any long-standing problems in deciding the nominee or causing a credential challenge at the convention. These do-overs cannot be done on the cheap or open up yet another can or worms by governors in both states who have taken sides and may have a vested interest in the outcome.

I still believe some form of penalty should apply or the party will pay a price in 2012 when even more electorally viable states leapfrog ahead, knowing we will give them another chance to get it right.

In the end, the most important issue that should guide the remaining uncommitted superdelegates is party unity. The Democratic race started out so genteel that voters naturally gravitated to the Democratic column by first voting with their wallets and later, when the first contest began, by caucusing in historic numbers or waiting in long lines in cold wintry weather to go on record for a new direction and change.

Given the recent tenor, the tone, the corrosive nature of a protractive and competitive race, Democratic leaders must warn the candidates that their words do matter. And it’s not just the words coming from the mouths of Obama or Clinton, it’s their staffs, surrogates and spouses who often have injected the vilest and harshest innuendos, rumors and filth into the contest. We all know campaigns by their nature are not for the faint-hearted, but the candidate who tried to win by playing ugly will reap the consequences this fall.

Superdelegates must not become wobbly in choosing sides but rather keep their eyes intently focused on the prize: a candidate who can bring the Democratic Party together to fight the difficult challenges of a nation at war and on the verge of a recession. There’s no need for Democrats to throw Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a lifeline by sowing more seeds of division or prematurely announcing a withdrawal from small states this fall.

One way or another, Democrats must end on a cheerful note to push the presidential candidates and others on the ballot on to victory this fall.

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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