From a brokered convention to a superdelegate primary, contemplating the latest what-if- scenarios in the Democratic race for the White House has left some wondering if the time is now for the party's panchayat to step into the fray to make decisions about what comes next.
But who are those village elders?
Some of the once eight-strong Democratic presidential candidate pool have chosen sides. While former Sen. John Edwards has chosen to remain neutral, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will endorse Sen. Barack Obama on Friday in Portland, Oregon.
"I think it's a combination of a Dean, a Pelosi, a Reid because the House and Senate Democrats have as much at stake as the White House," political strategist Donna Brazile says. "And then, of course, there are a lot of grey-haired elder stateswomen and men that also could also play a leading role."
Naming names, Brazile continues: "We still have George Mitchell around who could referee a boxing match. We have Al Gore, who could weigh in. Jimmy Carter, who could also weigh in. So we have former majority leaders, speakers, party chairs who have not taken a lead role in taking sides that could help bring both sides together."
Gore Saves the Day?Certainly, former Vice President Al Gore, who won the popular vote but lost electorally to President Bush in the 2000 presidential race and who some hoped would throw his hat into the '08 ring, is in a unique position to speak to the politics of complicated math and narrow defeats.
But viewed through the colored lens of a hotly contested primary battle, political science professor Bruce Cain said it would be difficult for any one Democrat to wield influence this cycle without being accused of political prejudice or preference.
"It can't be any old group of village elders," Cain said. "It has to be the party in particular: It should be the party officials, the DNC."
Paging Dr. DeanCain says complex personal, professional and political histories create a situation in which "everybody is potentially suspect" with "no one individual like Al Gore being the key savior in all this," citing unresolved tension between the former vice president and the Clintons following Gore's '00 defeat.
Said Cain, "I think if Al Gore were to speak out or Jimmy Carter, I think they would just get attacked."
"What I do know is that they have not publicly committed one way or another," she said. "They may have leanings, they may have personal preferences, but they also desire to see a Democrat back in the White House in 2008 and they also desire, as many of us do, to have a unified party when this is over with."
"If there needs to be a peace maker," she said Gore "could possibly be one of many," citing him as one of the party's "honest brokers to help mediate any outstanding disputes once the final round of contests would have been held."
Gore's office had no comment.
Cain said, "There's no question" the answer lies with the Democratic National Committee and that "Howard Dean absolutely has to be in the mix."
Ticking Time BombStill, University of California at Berkeley political science professor Henry Brady said during a time when Democrats are facing "serious legitimacy issues … time may be their best ally right now."
"Time is what people should be playing for," Brady said, "because maybe that will help resolve things and in a way, we're jumping the gun here. It's still only March 20 and usually by this time, historically, we haven't known who the nominee was."
Political strategist Michael Feldman said also that letting the clock run out could be the party's best bet.
"There's a process at work, and there are voters who are voting and ultimately these things tend to tip," said Feldman, who served as a senior adviser in the Clinton-Gore White House. "They tend to tip in the direction of one candidate or the other and the outcome is based on the back and forth that these two historic candidates running historic campaigns have been having for the last year."
Said Brazile, "This is a race. And in the middle of the race I don't see why we should try to alter the rules because it's making us uncomfortable."
Feldman believes the fight to the finish is good for the party. "It may not be neat and it may not be clean, but at the end of the day it produces a stronger nominee and has behind it more energy and more excitement in all the ways you measure that," he said.
Feldman favors a more "organic" outcome, where the pledged delegates and superdelegates come to a consensus over the course of the primary season on which candidate has the best chance come November.
He doesn't see an outcome where "a couple of people get together -- whoever they may be, whatever their stature may be -- to get in and decide the outcome. It's just not how it's done and it doesn't seem to me that that is a likely outcome."
A Superconvention?But the Clinton-Obama outcome and how that outcome will come to pass has become a growing fixation.
In Wednesday's New York Times, Tennessee's Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen floated the idea of a convening of superdelegates following the nation's last primary June 3 so that the party could unify before the summer months behind the candidate.
In an interview with ABC News, Bredesen, who is one of the Democratic Party's 795 superdelegates, more than 40 percent of whom have not announced candidate affiliations, said his reasoning was born out of the concern that Democrats could see "lost opportunities" if the nomination battle makes its way to the party's August convention.
Bredesenl said the party must pull the trigger, to take the reins of the process and lead.
"It has to be the DNC. Only the DNC has the standing to make this happen," he said.
"I think in the case of Gore and Carter and others, they're the grand old people of the party and their council on these things would be very helpful and useful," he said. "But ultimately, this is about the party. And the party gets a candidate chosen and gets that candidate positioned to win the election."