Democrats are increasingly concerned that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will finish the primary season with enough delegates to become the nominee. So, today, Democrats publicly pondered a nightmare scenario — a brokered convention.
After a year of break-neck campaigning, the Democratic race for president is essentially a stalemate.
Following contests in 41 states, Obama leads Clinton by just 110 delegates. And the two also are neck-and-neck nationally in the total popular vote this primary season.
Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said today he's willing to step in to avoid a brokered convention in Denver on Aug. 25-28 that could hurt the party's chances in November.
"If we have to sit the two candidates down together, or their campaigns down together, and try to figure out how to make peace and have a convention that's going to work, then that's fine," Dean said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "That is my job, and we'll be happy to do it."
Asked if he would not allow the nomination to be decided on the convention floor in Denver this August, Dean added, "Well, you can't not let it go to the floor. That's going to depend on what the candidates want to do."
Dean said it's still too soon for that meeting, with more state primaries to come. But it's increasingly likely that the Democratic nomination will be decided by the party leaders who make up the 796 superdelegates — either at the convention or before.
"It's bound to weaken the nominee," said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. "There will be at least one or several explosions in the convention, and that divisiveness will have an impact in November."
To pressure superdelegates to decide before the August convention, party heavyweights are going to have to twist some arms, including such Democratic godfathers — and godmothers — as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore.
"They can put great pressure on members who haven't committed or even some who have to switch to go with who they think will be the winner," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at The American University.
Perhaps in another effort to avert convention turmoil, officials on the airwaves today continued to discuss the possibility of a revote in Florida or Michigan — which might allow additional delegations to be seated at the convention and put more delegates up for grabs in the Clinton-Obama duel.
The Democratic National Committee currently is not recognizing the results of primaries in Florida and Michigan because the states voted earlier than authorized by the DNC. Neither Clinton nor Obama campaigned in the states, and Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.
On "This Week," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., backed the possibility of a mail-in caucus.
"I think only a mail kind of a vote will work," Levin said. "It's better than a 50-50 split, which really overrides public voting."
On who would pay for a mail-in vote, Levin was optimistic that "if there is a practical way to do it, which people feel is secure and fair, I believe a couple of million dollars could be raised."
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, advocated that the delegates already selected should be seated.
While he is willing to consider a mail-in vote, Crist argued that "the Democratic National Committee should come to the common sense conclusion that the right thing to do is to honor that vote, recognize that vote, and seat those delegates."
But even with three large states potentially yet to weigh in — Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which holds its primary on April 22 — it's possible neither Obama nor Clinton will have enough delegates to claim victory at the Democratic National Convention in August.
The last brokered convention to produce a winning candidate was in 1932, when Democratic bosses, led by Joseph P. Kennedy, left the floor and chose Franklin Roosevelt in a smoke-filled room.
This time, a brokered nomination would be different: The party bosses are now elected officials and the rooms are smoke-free.
But the pressure — that hasn't changed at all.
Dean's fears of a brokered convention may be justified. In the two brokered conventions since Roosevelt, the badly bruised nominee lost the election.
Since Roosevelt, nominees bruised in brokered convention battles in which there was more than one ballot — Republican Thomas Dewey, who was pronounced a presidential winner only in a famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline mistake in 1948, and Democrat Adlai Stevenson four years later — have lost the general election.
ABC News' Mary Bruce contributed to this report.