Saturday, March 8, 2008

Democratic race muddled again as delegate showdown looms

(Originally published 3/8/08)

Super Tuesday giveth clarity to the Democratic race for president; Super Tuesday II taketh away.

Hillary Clinton managed to combine positivity and negativity ahead of Tuesday’s action: She appeared on late-night talk shows, most notably Saturday Night Live, while her surrogates turned up the heat on Barack Obama as he fumbled with NAFTA. The result: A candidate who was 0 for her last 12 primary contests had a 3-for-4 night that included wins in her self-described firewall states of Ohio and Texas.

The headlines on Wednesday focused on Obama and the opportunities he missed to slam shut the door on Clinton. Some pundits have opined that the SNL skits shamed mainstream media into getting tough with Obama for the first time.

(If that’s true, what does it say about American media that it only examines and improves the investigative quality of its work under pressure and satirical scrutiny from a late-night comedy sketch show?)

Anyway, if nothing else, the campaigns will continue at least until April 22 in Pennsylvania – where Clinton enjoyed an 11-point lead before her cleanup on Super Tuesday II – and most likely until the convention in Denver in August.

Speaking of the convention, Democratic Party leaders have their hands full with the delegate mess in Michigan and Florida. Both states have been sanctioned by the DNC and their delegates sidelined for their insistence on holding primary contests before the allowed date of Feb. 5, but governors from both states are calling on the Democratic National Committee to find some way to make count the votes cast in those states’ too-early primaries.

Clinton’s name was the only one on the Michigan ballot, prompting Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume to describe it as “a Soviet-style ballot.” Obama had withdrawn his name – and didn’t actively campaign in Florida – in keeping with an agreement the candidates made not to campaign in the sanctioned states.

But both are powerhouse states important to Democrats’ hopes of retaking the White House in November, so it’s bad karma to not seat their delegates. DNC Chairman Howard Dean proposed that the states hold new nominating contests, but the states are balking at coughing up the $25 to $30 million that do-overs would require.

(By the way, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is a rumored potential running mate of GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain. It’s no secret that Republicans would prefer to run against Clinton than Obama. By helping Clinton secure Florida’s delegates now, Crist could be helping McCain later.)

In an unrelated item, Obama announced this week that his campaign raised $55 million in February alone, smashing the record for any amount ever raised by any candidate in a single month. Clinton didn’t have a shabby month, either; drawing in $35 million in contributions during February and raising $4 million in two days this week.

Hey, here’s an idea: If Clinton and Obama are serious about seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, why don’t they pool their February cash and split the costs of new contests even-steven? The votes will all be counted; the candidates will get their delegates; taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill; and we can all pretend – for a moment, at least – that rules actually matter when it comes to elections.

It’s almost enough to make Howard Dean scream with joy.

On the blog this weekend: Some early but revealing information on general election matchups, and I reveal a little-known group of disenfranchised voters in Texas.

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