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Democrats' primary battle takes toll, but long view looks rosy

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Perhaps most alarming for the Democratic Party, several polls also show that at least 20 percent of Democrats would vote for Senator McCain in November if their preferred Democrat does not get the nomination. If such a high defection rate were to hold all the way to November, that could hand the election to McCain.

"A lot of this is fallout from this dragging on too long and from open sores that are smarting," says John Zogby, an independent pollster. "It's going to be difficult healing these wounds."

Still, there are two ways to look at this, analysts say. One is to say, if it's this ugly in March, imagine how bad it will be if the nomination race drags all the way to June, when the final contests are held, or even to the convention in August. The other is to stand back and say: It's only March. Once the Democrats have a nominee – even if that's not decided until August – the party will rally around him or her and have plenty of time to take on McCain.

"Of course Democrats are concerned," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "They'd love to have a nominee organizing for the fall. And they are concerned about the vicious things being said back and forth."

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