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Gloves off for Clinton and Obama?

A nasty campaign may push the party to cut short the primary season next time.

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Hillary Clinton mostly took the high road in the big primaries of Ohio and Texas. She won the way a candidate often does: with appeals to certain demographic groups and by standing out on select issues. As the Democratic contest tightens, however, she and Barack Obama must resist the temptation to win by other means.

And the temptations are huge. The nation has not seen such a competitive and long nominating contest in decades. If Senator Clinton wins the next "big" state, Pennsylvania, on April 22, the race will likely last into the party's August convention.

Even at this point, more states than in past primary seasons have had a say in picking the party's nominee. And more people are engaged in the excitement of choosing a nominee who might shape the country's direction.

Nonetheless the party establishment is nervous. The campaigns could quickly become nasty. Actions that end up giving superdelegates a strong hand or a "redoing" of the Michigan and Florida votes may be seen as unfair. One side might go to court, as happened after the 2000 presidential election.

If the contest ends badly, the party might then decide to rejigger the nominating process for the future to ensure a shorter voting season. It may seek to have a clear winner after only a few states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina – vote. In other words, make the process less democratic.

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