Monday, February 18, 2008

The Super Undeclared: Waiting for a Role at Convention?

Former Veep nominee John Edwards. Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), and Tom Harkin (D-IA). Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). Fomer Veep and former presidential nominee Al Gore. What do these men have in common? Yes, of course, they all ran for president in their party's primary at some point -- in fact, Edwards, Biden and Gore have run for the roses a couple of times. At the moment, however, the most important thing these guys have in common is the fact that they have not endorsed either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Interestingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have also held their tongues in the superdelegate endorsement race.

Edwards is the only one of these folks who is not also an undeclared superdelegate -- that mystical commodity in Democrat-land that has become increasingly sought-after as traditional delegates, awarded the old fashioned way (aka, by a populer vote), become harder and harder to come by. There is still clear talk that Edwards might endorse -- he apparently had a love-in with Hillary and is being hotly pursued by Obama, of course. Either campaign would happily offer up their first born to have Edwards on their team, but he may also decide to stay his own man and attempt to play a larger role. Richardson has also said he will make up his mind in the next few days -- but heck, he wants to be Secretary of State, so I think he's just hoping to chose the right horse. (BTW, there is nothing in the Constitution that would prevent Bill from being Secretary of State AND Vice President. Provocative idea, huh? Especially for Hillary, where the VP gig is already seen as actually worth less than 32nd Veep John Garner's much vaunted bucket of warm spit.)

However, even if you do subtract Edwards and Richardson, and add DNC Chair Howard Dean, you have quite the leadership council of the party. Hell, it's almost a cabal. Are these folks setting themselves up as supposedly neutral arbiters as the primary goes down to the wire, should it come to that? Gore in particular could be an honest, respected broker should intervention be necessary -- hell, half the country would like HIM to run (maybe he could pull a Cheney and pick himself as the nominee?). People like Pelosi, Biden and others have been talking to Gore in recent days, causing speculation that a fallback plan is already in the works. Question is, would this council step in only in the case of a brokered convention, or would they make a move before it got to that -- for the sake of party unity? And would this cabal, um, I mean, council of wise folks, have the power to really make either Hillary or Obama bend to their will?

Given that the popular vote in some states differs from the pledges of superdelegates, the worry of course is that the increasingly divisive primary race could fracture the party so badly that the general election goes down the drain right along with the civility. Pelosi has already said she believes the popular vote should decide the nomination, not the 795 super-special, superdelegates. I agree with Madam Speaker. This superdelegate system seems in many ways like the Democrats' own convoluted version of the electoral college, implemented after the party hierarchy's dissatisfaction with the popular choice of George McGovern back in the day, to ensure the people never made such a silly decision again.

Meanwhile, Hillary is busily spinning yarns in an effort to get Florida and Michigan included in the delegate count -- states that have been spanked by the DNC for daring to challenge the supremacy of Iowa and New Hampshire by moving up their primary dates -- and states that Hillary "won." I say won loosely since a full-scale campaign was not waged in either state, so while I admire the woman's chutzpah, it's really hard to say the gentlelady from New York won either contest fair and square.

It's clear the Democratic primary is going down to the wire. It also seems clear neither candidate is backing down, and that their respective supporters are becoming increasingly entrenched to the possible detriment of the party. While I am not a supporter of the superdelegate system, I do think it's a sound idea for cooler heads to prevail -- for some wise party leaders to try to negotiate a cease-fire. I don't want them picking the nominee -- that is for the people to do. But I wouldn't mind a reality check when the people's choice has become clear, and the honored also-ran needs a gentle push to the podium to make their concession speech. And hey, if the leader of that cabal is Nobel peace prize winner Al Gore, it could be a lot worse.

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