James Fallows writes:
The main drawback is that it allows more time for sniping and bloodletting among the Democrats, which could leave the eventual nominee worse off. This is an asymmetrical risk: Hillary Clinton has already been as sniped-at as she can possibly be — over, as we know, her 35 years of public service. Indeed, that’s part of her argument: the oppo researchers won’t come up with anything new. Obama has not yet been scarred or vetted in quite the same way. Maybe it would toughen him to go through a round of true negative campaigning. But maybe it would mainly wound him. And if he ends up as the nominee, he won’t be happy about a lot of footage of a former Democratic President putting him down, which Bill Clinton provided this week.
Clearly on some level this is true, but I think these kinds of fears tend to get overstated. As we’ve seen from how rapidly the CW on this primary has whipsawed, even if the nomination battle were to go all the way up to convention, the remaining months of general election would provide ample time for Republicans to make whatever attacks they have to make and generally air the laundry. Meanwhile, an extended primary means the eventually winner will have honed his or her message. Since the Democrats are all saying the same general kinds of things — Bush has screwed everything up and I can fix it, especially terrorism, health care, and climate change — having competing Democratic candidates out there stealing from each other (both Clinton and Obama seems to be moving toward coopting elements of Edwards’ appeal) creates a Darwinian dynamic whereby the stronger message prevails.
It’s true that really ugly negative campaigning could come around to damage the eventual nominee, especially if delivered by surrogates like Bill Clinton, but the basic dynamics of this thing don’t really lead me to believe that ugly negative campaigning would be a very effective tactic. Both candidates are likable and well-liked, and there seems to be a lot of backlash potential when anyone gets really cutting.