How often — and early — we crown them. At its largest, this year’s field of declared candidates for the Democratic party’s nomination for president numbered nine, and it seemed there were few among the pack who weren’t, at one point, named a sure bet for the honor.

We were encouraged that Tuesday’s primary results, while cementing Sen. John Kerry as the candidate to beat, showed signs that this year’s race could still be a competitive one — and one that many of Kerry’s opponents say is far from over.

Pollsters and pundits changed their predictions often: Lieberman seemed to have the name recognition that made him an early favorite. Before long, however, Kerry emerged as the favorite, but was eclipsed when the analysts practically handed former Gov. Howard Dean the nomination. But after Kerry’s resounding victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, report after report again declared him the only contender. Pundits said he was untouchable, that he was running away with the nomination and that no other candidate could even hope to compete. But that seemingly foregone conclusion shook — or at least wobbled a little — on Tuesday, as Kerry’s competitors proved he wasn’t unbeatable.

Edwards sailed to a clear victory in South Carolina, while Wesley Clark just edged Edwards for the win in Oklahoma. Even Dean, who remains winless, posted solid results in several states and could still put up a fight. They all could. Results of Tuesday’s primaries, while solidifying Kerry as the frontrunner, showed that his nomination is by no means a foregone conclusion. This is still a race. Not a close one, perhaps, but a race nonetheless.

We’re glad the race is not quite over. There are potential downsides to a larger candidate pool, of course. It may weaken the candidates because they have to fight so hard; a more competitive campaign means a longer campaign, and a more expensive one. But ultimately more candidates means tougher competition and a stronger victor. More candidates means more pointed questions, more considered answers, and more dialogue. The candidates will be held more accountable for their past records and for the public’s future. Part of the democratic process is for candidates to be subjected to intense competition, for them to have to work for and win public support. Whoever wins this year’s race for the Democratic nomination will have an even more solid claim to running the nation founded on the democratic ideal of listening to the voice of the people.

Of course, this democratic utopia is predicated on us actually making our voices heard. Beyond our usual call to get out the vote, we hope students to make an effort to learn about all of the candidates. Even those whose chances seems dim may still be viable; even those with no chance still have valuable messages to communicate. It’s good news for the democratic process that Iowa and New Hampshire haven’t (quite) decided the race. Votes in the Super Tuesday Connecticut primary, or in any of the states to come, do still matter. Don’t yield to the temptation to ignore these primaries — or to consider them decided. The more these candidates are pushed now, the stronger the nominee will be in November.