Will Delegate Duel Hurt Dems?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seem set to battle until the summer.

ByABC News
March 5, 2008, 3:53 PM

March 6, 2008 — -- It may be the ultimate nightmare for Democrats: Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote, Barack Obama wins the delegate count and the party is wracked with infighting headed into this summer's convention.

That scenario becomes ever more likely as the dueling candidates continue to ratchet up the rhetoric and sling mud, say political pundits and campaign veterans.

While party elders hoped that last night's primaries would show the way to a clear winner, Clinton's wins in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island only raised more questions and stirred more confusion.

Clinton's rebound raised the hopes of her supporters and she made crucial gains among white male voters, but she still needs to win 59 percent of the delegates in the remaining 12 contests to overtake Obama, according to ABC News estimates.

Obama still leads the delegate count and he's snatching away crucial superdelegates, but the Clintons seem determined to continue the fight to the bitter end.

Which leaves Republican nominee John McCain with plenty of time to raise money, build up support in crucial states and attack both likely opponents.

"Does this go to the convention? Do we have a bloodless Chicago?" asks Bob Shrum, Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager in the 2004 race, referring to the Democratic convention of 1968 in which a bitterly divided party debated over whether to nominate Eugene McCarthy or Hubert Humphrey.

"Do we end up in late June or early July having another primary in Florida?"

Shrum thinks that Obama may have an advantage despite Tuesday's results because the Democratic leadership doesn't want to lose all the new voters that his candidacy has brought into the party.

But don't tell that to the Clintons.

"One thing that is clear is that unless there is some decisive moment in the next few months, the Clinton campaign and President [Bill] Clinton are going to fight until the last dog dies," says Shrum.

Indeed, Hillary Clinton forcefully emphasized her claim to the nomination in her victory speech last night. "If we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win the battleground states, just like Ohio," she said.