In light of the Clinton campaign's response to Obama's ill-advised comments on small-town inhabitants, it's become obvious that Jon Chait and I were way off base arguing that the extended primary is killing the party. Why, as Elizabeth Edwards recently put it, the never-ending contest is clearly good for the party's White House chances.

The latest evidence of this salutary effect is the Clinton effort to paint Obama as an out-of-touch elitist who disdains small-town folk. For example, I got this e-mail from the Clinton campaign's chief party-strengthening officer, Phil Singer, about an hour ago. (It's one of several variations on the theme I've received over the last 24 hours):

In response to comments made by Senator Obama this week at a fundraiser in San Francisco, North Carolinians from across the Tar Heel State lent their names to an open letter decrying his characterization of those living in small towns. 

BACKGROUND:  At a fundraiser in San Francisco this week, Senator Obama shared his views of Americans from small towns: β€œit’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” 

The text of the open letter from North Carolinians follows. 

Dear Senator Obama:

This week at a fundraiser in San Francisco you denigrated people who live in small town America saying that "they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiments or anti-trade sentiments as a way to explain their frustrations."

We are from small town America – we are the people you are talking about, the people you say are leading "bitter" lives.  Well, Senator Obama, nothing could be further from the truth.  Here in small town America we lead productive lives full of belief in God and country.  We live in communities where we go to church because we are hopeful, not because we are bitter.  We believe that our passion for fair trade is born out of the principle of fair play, not frustration.  We believe that the future of our country is bright and reflected every day in the stars and stripes of our country's flag.

We need a leader who will stand up for small town North Carolina and all Americans. Someone who understands that we are a resilient and hopeful people who are proud of our values and our communities. That, Senator Obama, is what this country needs.

Signed,

[A bunch of authentic small-town folks.]

Strange how the Clinton approach to strengthening the Democratic Party is remarkably similar to the GOP's approach to strengthening the Democratic Party.

P.S. Clinton chief strategist Geoff Garin justifies the small-town assault in this interview with TPM Election Central's Greg Sargent.

My response, in case it needs to be spelled out: Yes, all this might be fair game ... IF OBAMA WEREN'T OVERWHELMINGLY LIKELY TO BE THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE!!!

--Noam Scheiber