Sunday, March 9, 2008

Michigan and Florida: The Democrats' Waterloo or Chance at Redemption

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, warned on ABC's "This Week" (3/9) that a divisive nomination fight could cost the Democrats the White House. Gee, ya' think? Not much of a news flash, there, doc -- thanks for catching up.

Dean's concerned, of course, about the Michigan/Florida problem -- and all the fuzzy math being done by the opposing camps trying to twist the calculus in their favor. "I have to run these rules so that the losing side feels they've been treated fairly," he announced on the Sunday talking head show. Hmmm. If you can do that, buddy, Al Gore oughta give you his Nobel Peace Prize. There is likely not a graceful way out of this that is going to make everyone happy -- not with the increasing level of nastiness coming from both campaigns as well as some of their more devoted (rabid?) disciples. These folks have chugged the Kool-aid, which has blinded them from keeping their eyes on the prize. The real problem will be if the only outcome that will please folks is a decision that benefits their candidate and screws the other.

The DNC and Dr. Dean need to resign themselves that there is no pleasing everyone this time, and that some bloodletting is likely inevitable. The question is, how much hemorrhaging can this stubborn mule take before it has to be put down, and the White House is forfeited to Sen. "I'm-glad-to-have-the-endorsement-of-Catholic-hating-Rev.-Hagee" McCain. If the Democrats can let cooler heads prevail, and if both candidates can show a little leadership and see the forest for the trees, a decent resolution to this delegate mess could take the party in a meaningful step towards party reunification. We got ourselves into this mess -- the presidency may well hinge on how we get ourselves out of it.

Each campaign has crunched the delegate numbers and come up with the solution that works best for them. Clinton wants both state primaries, which she happened to win, to count toward her delegate count. Indeed, she desperately needs these delegates if she has any hope of catching Obama. At the very least, she wants brand-spanking new primaries in one or both of the states.

On the other hand, Obama's camp says a change in the rules mid-stream is unfair. He wants the delegates apportioned -- either split evenly (making the inclusion of both states a wash to his current delegate lead) or by another standard, but hasn't necessarily ruled out a new vote. Not surprisingly, given his dominance in caucuses, his camp has floated the idea of holding replacement caucuses -- though that was pretty transparent and doesn't seem to have gotten much traction. Why have caucuses in states that have always had primaries?
Dean has apparently expressed support for a new primary -- maybe even one conducted by mail -- at least for Florida. Why would he make a distinction between the two states? There's a very good reason: it was the Republican state legislature, and a Republican governor and McCain supporter in Charlie Crist, who came up with the bright idea to move up the primary in the first place. Over the opposition of Florida Democrats, I might add. But Dean has also said the DNC won't finance a second vote, and you can bet your next paycheck the Republicans in Tallahassee won't pay for it either -- hell, they've got a front row seat to the best political theater going.

I came across this provocative post on in response to this mess:
Howard Dean is not looking at the big picture; namely, to win in November. Not seating delegations from Florida and Michigan will likely cost Democrats the election. Seating the delegates won in the early primarys [sic] will alienate millions of Obama supporters with disaster even more certain. Seating delegations arbitrarily selected, perhaps equally divided, will satisfy no one. There is no better use of Party Funds than to hold new primarys [sic] in June. If Howard Dean is concerned about the ability of the party to afford them, he should announce a special fund raising drive for that purpose: I doubt it would take a week to collect ample funds. Posted by: Lee Sterne March 9, 2008 01:34 PM
The Florida Democratic Party -- chaired by one of my favorite former members of Congress, Karen Thurman -- is on a similar wavelength. Like Dean, they are pondering a mailbox election, with ballots sent to all of Florida's almost 5 million registered Democrats. The cost would be $4-6 million, and the state party wants someone else to foot the bill. But the party has also said they would accept a "soft money" contribution from, oh, I dunno, a wealthy Democratic donor, labor union, or some other fat cat willing to pick up the tab. And, last but not least, the Florida Dems also want firm agreements that Clinton and Obama would both campaign in the state. Where's George Soros when you need him??

Another entry at was also apropos, considering these delegate rules -- crazy as they are -- were set up a year and a half ago, and Michigan Democrats at least voted in favor of the scheme. It was only later that the two states decided not to abide by the plan, and this post reflects a lot of folks frustration about the results:
Personally, I'm annoyed at all these politicians from MI and FL complaining about having to do a revote. They knew what the penalties were when they chose to violate the rules. It is these FL and MI politicians that the voters should be mad at for getting everyone into this mess. Posted by: JT March 9, 2008 01:43 PM
But hey, after the 2000 debacle, Florida especially is not about to take this lying down. Two state senators -- one of them a Clinton backer-- are thinking about ratcheting up the stakes and the acrimony, with a bill proposing that Florida drop the party's eventual presidential nominee from the ballot unless it seats Florida's delegates. Holy crap. Can you imagine? While legal scholars doubt the constitutionality of the proposal, the Florida state Senate Democratic leader has already been approached by Republicans promoting the bill. Of course he has! Imagine the time, energy, money and good will that the DNC would have to burn to fight that law, were the Republicans to pass it? What a bloody nightmare.

About the best idea I've heard so far boils down to a group of party elders -- pretty much a Democratic cabal -- being gathered to figure out the mess once and for all. One member of Congress, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO), has echoed growing concerns about a Democratic meltdown over the election. He has urged Dean to appoint a panel of party elders to recommend a strategy to resolve the dispute. Folks like former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore come to mind, likely to be joined by other undeclared but venerable superdelegates. Might there even be a role for John Edwards? I like the idea, but would add that it needs to be kinda like binding arbitration, with both Clinton and Obama agreeing to abide by the outcome beforehand -- no sour grapes afterwards. And it needs to happen soon, and the campaigns need to dial it back a notch until the issue is resolved. If Democrats handle this right, they could make progress towards a more unified party in November -- something we desperately need right now. Otherwise, they might as well hand the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the McCains right now.

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