Sure seemed like a good idea at the time

Both Michigan and Florida this past week gave up on efforts to hold “do-over” Democratic primaries, dealing a setback to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination hopes and not doing much for the party’s self-image as a smooth and powerful political juggernaut.

The plan was that by this point in the race the nomination would have been long settled and the nominee happily beating up on President Bush and the Republicans. But the Democrats have this weird gift — curse, maybe — of confounding themselves.

Michigan and Florida were stripped of their delegates when they violated party rules by setting their primaries too early. The two states held the contests anyway and Clinton came out ahead in Michigan, where she was the only major candidate on the ballot, and in Florida, where none of them campaigned. In a shrewd piece of political theater, she promptly held a “victory rally” in the Sunshine State.

Clinton’s camp would desperately like those votes to count. The Obama camp clearly does not. Simply holding new primaries, the so-called do-over, seemed like the best compromise, but the obstacles of money, politics and timing proved too much. Florida had considered a mail-in primary, a chilling prospect to many — Florida’s legendary vote-tallying prowess combining with the vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service.

There are now a dwindling number of not-very-good alternatives. Neither candidate can win the nomination outright in the 10 remaining primaries. But the voters in those states might go so overwhelmingly for one candidate or the other that the candidate so blessed could convincingly claim the nomination anyway. The voters are rarely that cooperative.

The worst outcome would be to arrive in Denver for the convention with no outcome, leaving the choice to be settled in a frenzied brawl in the rules and credentials committees and providing endless fun and fodder for the Republicans.

One possibility would be to have the nearly 800 superdelegates — Democratic elected officials and party leaders and elders — step in and settle the race once the primaries are over. Then it wouldn’t matter who Michigan and Florida sent. But what outsiders might see as leadership the superdelegates seem to see as getting too far out in front of the elected delegates.

This is such a Democratic thing. For the best of reasons, the party tried to stop the race from being settled too early and now it may not be settled at all.

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