Sen. Hillary Clinton's win in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary underscores the need for the Democratic Party to bring the nomination battle to a swift and fair conclusion as soon as possible. The best way to do that is to move the Democratic nominating convention from the end of August to the end of June.
Why? When Democrats vote in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday, they will probably render a split decision, with Sen. Barack Obama handily winning in the South and Mrs. Clinton eking out an industrial Midwest victory. The back and forth could well continue through the last primary on June 3. If neither candidate achieves the 2,025 delegates needed for nomination by then, the bitter campaign could go right through the summer.
While the laws of addition seem to deny the possibility of a Clinton nomination, the New York senator has shown no inclination to bow out. And in truth, she's not really all that far behind and can credibly claim strong support among many Democratic voters.
Calling the roll of delegates as soon as possible is really the only decisive and fair way to settle this contest in a way that puts the Democratic nominee in the best position to defeat Republican John McCain in November. Moving up the convention to June 28 through July 1 would allow both candidates to compete in each remaining primary and yet avoid carrying the battle for delegates through the summer. It also would let the Democrats end with a patriotic flourish as the convention concludes just before Independence Day, and it would give them the summer to unify the party after the long, bitter campaign.
Yes, changing the convention dates would be a logistical nightmare, and it would sharply break with tradition. Moreover, if the Democratic nominee accepts federal campaign money, he or she might be put at a financial disadvantage with respect to the Republican, allowed to spend only that sum and no more for the long slog from early July to November.
But these issues are trivial compared with the increasing possibility of forfeiting the presidency because of a vitriolic campaign that seems never to end. The front-loading of the primary calendar has made the late August convention an anachronism that is now a heavy albatross around the neck of the Democratic Party.
Moving up the convention would force the remaining 309 uncommitted superdelegates to decide sooner rather than later in a way that the implorations of party leaders or editorial boards never could. A late June convention could mean a decision by late May - or sooner.
This plan also has an important advantage over Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's proposal for the superdelegates to decide the issue with a post-primary-season conclave. The result of such a conclave - unlike the result of a full-party convention - would probably be seen as illegitimate by whoever lost out. Instead of bringing the party together, it could well split it further apart.
The times have changed. For many years now, the great majority of Democratic delegates have been chosen by the voters. But the date of the convention is just where it's always been, months after the last polls close. It's time for the Democratic National Committee and party chairman Howard Dean to show real leadership. Move the convention to the end of June and put the party in the best position to end the tragic foreign and domestic legacy of George W. Bush.
Let the roll call begin!
Tom De Luca, professor of political science at Fordham University, is co-author of "Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics." He blogs at dailydemonizer.blogspot.com.