Yes, that’s right, the Democratic party still does not have nominee locked in for the presidential race. Pundits and pollsters and pontificators insist Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has all but eliminated New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. We say: so what? With three weeks left until the final June 3 primaries, Clinton should remain in the race, particularly if the Democrats want to mount a solid challenge against presumptive Republican nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

We’re not making this argument because we necessarily believe Clinton has a chance to secure the nomination, even with her 41-point victory over Obama in the May 13 West Virginia primary. Such a result was expected; Obama even ceded the contest before the polls closed, and he chose instead to spend the day campaigning in Missouri and Michigan, two states that will be crucial for victory in the November Election. Moreover, according to The Associated Press, as of May 14 Obama had won 1,598 pledged delegates to Clinton’s 1,446 (2,026 are needed to secure a nomination at the Democratic National Convention). Obama has now surpassed Clinton in the race for so-called superdelegates, with 287 indicating they would support him over the 271 suggesting they would support her.

At this point, none of this should be unfamiliar to anyone paying attention to the race, nor should it be unfamiliar that Obama is likely to win most of the delegates in the states and territories still to vote (Kentucky and Oregon on May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1 and Montana and South Dakota on June 3). Still, this race shouldn’t be called before the last ballots are counted on the Great Plains.

It serves no one who supports Obama, Clinton or the Democratic politics (or democracy in general), however, to insist the West Virginia primary was irrelevant. Likewise, it does nothing but harm for the cause of enfranchising the un-enfranchised to insist Clinton terminate her bid early, before those remaining ballots are cast. What message would it send to those states to suddenly cease this incredibly tight, compelling contest only weeks before its end?

That the other 44* states and American possessions somehow matter more? (*As we know, Michigan and Florida’s balloting are in dispute. We don’t feel it is fair to give them directly to Clinton, as Obama wasn’t even on the ballot, but we also can’t disagree that the Democratic Party created its own mess there by insisting on the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary process.)

Think of the positive message it would send on behalf of the Democratic Party if this race is allowed to continue for its last three weeks. It would show the party wants to hear even from its supporters in the vast expanses of Montana and South Dakota, that its diehard activists in the forests and coasts and deserts of Oregon matter, that the long hours of campaigning in the Bluegrass State weren’t for naught and that Puerto Rico, so often left with little input to the nation that rules it, can have its voice heard. It allows the party to continue the record voter registration drives and thus drive home the message that in every corner of this country people are fed up and they want to get involved and do something about it. If people feel engaged in the process, part of the process, they will stay involved.

Meanwhile, Obama’s battle with Clinton has toughened him immensely for what is sure to be a bruising general election, and he, as has she (should she pull off some sort of extraordinary turnaround), has shown that he has the tenacity, leadership and competence needed by a president to lead and persist in unfavorable conditions. Either will emerge from this process incredibly strengthened, not just to fight off a Republican challenger, but to lead this fractious nation and to repair the harm done over the last seven years to our collective vitality.

Ultimately, this primary season may finally convince political leaders that the state by state primary process is outdated and that we are past due for a national primary day (or better yet, instant run-off voting). For now, though, let’s let the system play out the way it was intended.

One last note: Don’t forget to vote June 3. Just because Californians cast their ballots in the presidential primary Feb. 5 doesn’t mean we’ve ceded our responsibility to also select our nominees and leaders at the state and local levels. Voters in Ventura County have choices to make that have far more of a direct impact on everyday life in races that include face-offs for county supervisors, state senators, judges and congressional representatives.