Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has a plan that will produce a nominee before his party's convention in August, avoiding what he fears could be a "really ugly and nasty" fiasco.

Democratic leaders have begun complaining that he has bungled the party's nominating process and alienated voters because of his failure to engineer a political compromise in the DNC's ill-advised decision to strip Florida and Michigan of all its delegates. But Dean, whose internal polls show the party's internecine warfare is hurting its chances in November, has been talking to party bigwigs about a deal and now says the delegations will be seated before the nominating roll of the states is called.

The conventional wisdom says the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will go all the way to the August convention. But Dean wants it over well before then, and possibly before the last of the 10 remaining primaries are completed in June. And the likelihood is that's what will happen.

The scenario Dean and party leaders fear most is a bitter political floor fight in Denver that will deeply divide the party and send a message to the country that if the Democrats can't govern themselves, how can they govern the country?

"There'll be some nasty fights if it goes to convention, and people will walk out," Dean told the Associated Press last week in an unusually blunt interview in which he said the candidates' bitter infighting threatened to demoralize the party's base and weaken its chances in November.

Dean's stern admonition to both candidates to stop the attacks on one another, telling their supporters to "keep their mouths shut," got a lot of media attention. His plan to bring the nominating fight to an end, possibly before June, received little notice.

That plan calls on the remaining 350 undeclared superdelegates to break their neutrality sooner rather than later, providing enough votes to produce the 2,024-delegate majority needed to clinch the nomination.

"There is no point in waiting," Dean said, adding that he has been "talking to a fairly significant number of, by and large, nonaligned people about how we might resolve this."

Indeed, neutral superdelegates (governors, members of Congress, DNC members and other VIPs) have begun to break their silence in the past two weeks, all of them supporting Obama: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.