Sen. Hillary Clinton may have her back to the ropes in her primary contest against Sen. Barack Obama, but she isn’t going down for the count. Okay, so the election-as-boxing metaphor is tired and clichéd, but now even Clinton is using it. On Tuesday, she compared herself to epitome of the underdog, Rocky Balboa, by proclaiming, “When it comes to finishing a fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up. And neither do the American people.” The only problem? In the first Rocky movie, Rocky lost the title fight.

Does that mean Clinton is on pace to perform an “almost comeback” and win a Rocky-like moral victory? Perhaps. But the world of boxing is not the same as the world of politics – political outcomes have real world repercussions that affect the lives of ordinary people. Clinton’s chances of becoming president are slim. She doesn’t have the delegates necessary to clinch the nomination and her only chance would involve Democratic superdelegates overturning the will of the people – something that looks increasingly unlikely as the superdelegates have been steadily moving in Obama’s direction. That means a Clinton presidency would now have to seemingly involve a 2012 rematch against Apollo Creed, er… Obama, in the Democratic primary, assuming Sen. John McCain takes the White House this year. This would, of course, mean four years of President McCain – a guy who might not know much about economics, but seems really eager to start himself some more wars. Awesome.

If Clinton does, in fact, stay in the race until the Democratic Convention in late August – a promise she recently committed herself to – that gives the Democratic nominee only two months to run against Sen. McCain in the general election. This could be a huge problem for the Democrats, who presumably need ample time to tell the American people about McCain – a guy who might not know much about economics, but seems really eager to start himself some more wars.

Last week, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy pressured Clinton to drop out of the race and endorse Obama. I won’t go that far, as several states haven’t voted yet, and Clinton has every right to make her case to those voters. An extended campaign can create excitement for the Democrats and shift attention away from McCain. That doesn’t mean it’s helping Obama’s general election chances, but predictions of a couple more months of primary campaigning dooming the Democrats’ electoral chances are surely overblown. The final primary is scheduled to occur on June 3. If the Democratic contest goes that far, it isn’t the end of the world.

But the primary should end at that point. This would give the Democratic nominee five full months to campaign against the Republicans, which is more than enough time. But if the nominee isn’t chosen until the convention in August, it would most certainly result in deep divides within the Democratic electorate, preoccupying the Democratic candidate with repairing rifts within the party instead of focusing energy against McCain.

By June, assuming Clinton is still in the race, the Democratic Party leadership will need to step up and work out a solution to their party’s problems. One superdelegate already proposed having a two-day quasi-convention, in which the superdelegates would meet after the last primary and pick the nominee. While perhaps not perfect, that plan is probably the best solution the Democrats have. Once Obama is selected as the nominee – and he probably will be – party officials will be fully justified in following Sen. Leahy’s lead and demanding that Clinton bow out of the contest if Clinton still insists on taking the fight all the way through August – and she very well might. If Clinton stays in at that point, she will be placing her own ego and long-shot ambitions above the wellbeing of her party and her country. Democratic leaders have a right to make sure their nominee has enough time and support to make his – or her – case to the American people, so we don’t get stuck with the guy who likes to sing about bombing Iran.