It's now a marathon, with Pa. the big prize

Like a tennis game that keeps going back to deuce, the advantage in the Democratic nomination battle has gone back and forth. Obama still holds the advantage, but Clinton supporters such as Nutter are trying to cast the race as one in which both candidates now are starting virtually from scratch.

Momentum from Obama's 11-contest winning streak heading into Tuesday, or Clinton's big-state victories, won't last until April 22, he says.

"Whatever has happened in all these other places … is virtually immaterial and forgotten. It's not like the phone company where you get all these rollover minutes," Nutter says. "This is a whole new campaign." And a long one.

"Considering that Iowa voted eight weeks ago and it seems like two lifetimes ago to most people, yes, it's a long time," says Obama's Pennsylvania spokesman Sean Smith.

Are we there yet?

Jennifer Palmieri, a former strategist for the John Edwards campaign, says it's good for the Democrats that the battle will go on for at least another seven weeks.

"What you hope comes out in the primary is that your nominee is tested, they're fully vetted and they're battle ready," Palmieri says. "The debate has definitely intensified in the last couple weeks in a way we haven't seen before, and that's what it's going to be like in the general election. You would rather be dealing with issues in March than have John McCain raise them for the first time in September or October."

Clinton frequently points out that her husband, Bill Clinton, didn't wrap up the 1992 nomination until June. She neglects to mention, however, that he didn't even announce he was running for president until about 15 months before the election. She announced in January 2007, about 22 months before this November's election. By the time the earliest-ever, front-loaded compressed primary schedule kicked off in Iowa on Jan. 3, she had been campaigning for nearly a year.

State Democratic chairman Rooney worries that another seven weeks of intra-party battle will leave the candidates bloodied and the party broke.

"Part of me," he says, is looking forward to the Pennsylvania campaign "just for the sheer circus value of it all." But without a nominee, the state party can't begin focusing on the general election.

"The giant sucking sound will be money coming out of Pennsylvania" for the never-ending nomination battle — money that otherwise would go toward the general election campaign. The campaign for Pennsylvania is "arguably four weeks too long," Rooney says. "If it were more truncated, it would probably (be) to our benefit going forward, but try telling Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton that."

It's also a chance for the Democrats to organize and excite voters before the general election, when Pennsylvania will be a big electoral prize. That should be good for the party "under the right circumstances," Rooney says. "As long as there's nothing that can't be patched up."

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