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Why the Long Primary Battle with Clinton Will Actually Help Obama Win in November

Listen to the talking heads drone endlessly about Obama's drubbing in Kentucky and Clinton's superior appeal among working class whites in Appalachia, and it is hard not to believe that the continuing primary battle won't hurt Obama in the fall.
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Listen to the talking heads drone endlessly about Obama's drubbing in Kentucky and Clinton's superior appeal among working class whites in Appalachia, and it is hard not to believe that the continuing primary battle won't hurt Obama in the fall. In fact, just the opposite is true. Here's why:

It will all be over soon enough. Notwithstanding his loss in Kentucky, his big win in Oregon put Obama at 1,957 delegates, according to That is only 69 delegates from the magic number of 2,026 set by Democratic Party rules to clinch the nomination. There are only 301 delegates left to allocate, of which 215 are superdelegates. Obama just needs 23% of those remaining delegates.

Now that Obama has accumulated an absolute majority of the elected, pledged delegates, the already steady movement of superdelegates to his column will increase. It is likely he will pick up at least 36 delegates in the remaining three primaries. That would leave him needing only 33 more superdelegates, which he would pick up in a couple of days.

Even if the Rules Committee of the DNC seats all of the delegates from Michigan and Florida, the math doesn't materially change. Let's say the Committee allocated 10% more of the Michigan and Florida delegates to Clinton than Obama. Between them, Michigan and Florida would have had 366 delegates -- so that would only net Clinton 37 delegates. Even that would leave Obama needing only one in three of the superdelegates remaining today after the last primary -- and remember that since Super Tuesday he has far outstripped Clinton in the proportion of superdelegates he has accumulated.

The long Democratic primary season has engaged millions of new voters. Every night in most big cities the sportscast reports the hockey scores. For the many people who don't follow hockey, those scores go in one ear and out the other. They don't stick. The same is true for most normal people when it comes to politics, at least until this spring.

Now millions of formerly non-political Americans have started following politics. The primaries have become the most engaging reality TV show around. They've become a sporting event, a drama. My formerly non-political life insurance agent came to see me last week. She's never done anything political in her life. Now she's hooked. She wants to volunteer for Obama.

This new engagement in the Democratic contest is a bonanza for our prospects this fall. In Indiana, the combined Democratic primary turnout was 129% of the total voter that John Kerry got in the general election in 2004. That is unheard of.

History shows that once people vote in Democratic primaries they are much more likely to vote Democratic in general elections.

In general, people are more likely to "act themselves" into a belief or commitment than to be convinced by argument. The 80,000 people who attended the Portland rally for Obama would never have gone had there not been a long primary to necessitate it. The act of attending that rally will do more than dozens of commercials will do to guarantee their commitment and their passion for the Democratic candidate this fall.

The same is true for the tens of thousands who banged on doors or picked up the phone - or argued with a neighbor about the campaign.

The long primary has forced the Obama campaign to develop organizations in all 50 states. Generally, presidential campaigns develop organizations in a few primary states and then go on to develop organizations in the few "in-play" general election states. By forcing Obama to create organizations in every state, the long primary season has helped enormously to broaden the general election playing field. This year, there will be strong, experienced Obama organizations in every state in America.

The battle has hugely increased Democratic registration. In-play states like Nevada that started the year with a majority of Republican registrants, now have a majority of Democrats. The New York Times reports that well over half of new registrants in Oregon were 30 or younger, and that of the 83,000 voters who changed parties this year, a large majority switched to Democratic.

The long primary fight has battle-hardened the Obama organization. Most of Obama's top field people have now been through four or five tough primary contests. That experience has taught even the greenest organizer to "think like a political organizer." It has taught thousands of organizers and volunteers the nuances of political organizing that are only learned through practice.

Great organizations are more than the sum of their parts. They develop distinct values and procedures that combine to form strong organizational cultures. The problem with political organizations is that they are "thrown together." Strong cultures need time to develop. The long primary season has provided that time and practice. It will massively strengthen our ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers and millions of voters in the fall.

The continuing primary drama has swelled the number of individual Obama donors. Obama received contributions from 200,000 new donors last month alone. The huge Internet fund raising base will provide a massive political advantage over McCain this fall. It would never have grown so large had the primary battle not continued.

The long primary campaign has battle hardened the candidate. Great long distance runners train for the Olympics by running in the mountains where the oxygen is thin. The tough contest has sharpened Obama's already formidable skills and those of his top advisers as well.

The most difficult issues have already been vetted. The tough primary forced the Reverend Wright controversy -- and the issue of race in general -- to be fully examined by the media and public. The same goes for other standard Republican attacks. Much better that these issues be raised in March than in October. Much better that the voters see Obama win primaries -- and win the nomination -- after dealing with these issues. And of course, it has given Americans the chance to get used to the idea of an African American president.

For many Americans that has happened. While Obama might have less appeal than Clinton among working class white Appalachians, he won 57% of the white vote in mostly-white Oregon -- including 53% of those earning under $50,000 per year.

Obama's big trump card in the fall election is his ability to change the electorate - to register and mobilize millions of voters who have not voted before. The long primary season has set the stage for a fall campaign that does just that. It will place dozens of new states into play. It will change the formula for winning traditional swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

In the end, the long primary season has set the stage for what could be a transformational election that sweeps Obama into the presidency, and substantially bolsters Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on

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