Dems' Bitter Path to the Bitter End

On the heels of a decisive win in the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday night, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York let her party know she is willing to stay in the race until the bitter end.

But in an already long and increasingly negative campaign, bitterness is the last thing Democratic voters are looking for, leaving many to wonder what effects a protracted and bloody race will have on the party and the eventual nominee's chances in the November general election.

Trailing Sen. Barack Obama in delegates and popular votes, Clinton's only hope for the nomination is to secure the support of superdelegates, the party activists and insiders who can give her the 2,025 total delegates required to win the nomination.

Most of the superdelegates remain unpledged to either candidate and are biding their time. They waited to see how Clinton would perform in Pennsylvania, and many will continue to wait and see how the remaining eight primaries play out.

Though Obama leads in overall delegates so far, with 1,716 to Clinton's 1,583, he is far from having the nomination sewn up. He, too, needs the support of superdelegates, extending the electoral process, with each candidate campaigning openly for votes, while at the same time courting the supers behind closed doors.

The final showdown and ultimate tally of superdelegates might not take place until the party's convention in August, just three months before the general election and seven months since Sen. John McCain became the Republican's presumptive nominee and began his national campaign.

The Democrats' waiting game will likely hurt the party and either candidate's chance for victory come November, political scientists and party insiders told ABC News.

"Waiting for the convention is not good for the party," said George C. Edwards III, a political science professor at Texas A&M University. "Divisive primaries never help. The party with the longest and most divisive primary usually loses. It takes time away from going after the opposition, and it beats up your own party's candidate."

While the superdelegates might end the stalemate by picking a nominee, their involvement might also alienate and anger half of the party's members.

"They both need the superdelegates, she just needs almost all of them," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "After the remaining primaries, if he has the popular vote and more delegates, and she puts the full court press on the superdelegates, there is going to be an internal battle of some significance."

With little time between the convention and Election Day, an internal battle, which may turn people off from voting or lead them to vote for McCain instead, is the last thing the Democrats need or want.

"There's a lot of that concern that the party's constituency is split. We need to come together if our candidate is going to win in November. If it goes to the convention, it will be all the more difficult to heal those wounds," said Leon Panetta, a former congressman and White House chief of staff under former President Clinton.

Superdelegates were conceived as an independent check on state delegates, but many believe their decisions should be a reflection of party sentiment.

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