Sunday, March 30, 2008

Party faithful fume as Democratic race drags on

(Originally published 3/29/08)

You may remember reading here last month about the “Democrats’ dirty little secret:” Under Democratic National Committee rules, there’s really no such thing as a “pledged” delegate. Theoretically, they’re almost all up for grabs at the convention.

Much to the chagrin of DNC Chairman Howard Dean and others hoping for a united party going into November, that free-for-all is looking more likely.

Clinton gave an interview this week wherein she signaled her willingness to go after those so-called pledged delegates in Denver in August: “Every delegate with very few exceptions is free to make up his or her mind however they choose,” Clinton said. “We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment.

CNN said it was at least the fifth time that Clinton or a surrogate had raised the idea in the past month.

Key to the delegate battle will be the perception of electability. Obama’s supporters will argue that Clinton is polarizing to the point of being radioactive; she won’t be able to perform in so-called purple and red states. Obama’s argument will be built on the idea that Democrats have a chance to do well in states where they are generally not competitive at the national level (read: states where he has won primaries and caucuses in sometimes eye-popping numbers), and that will be good for Democratic candidates downticket.

Clinton’s supporters will argue that Obama hasn’t done well among “lunchbucket Democrats,” or the sort of working white Democrats who delivered a big win for Clinton in Ohio and are expected to do so again in Pennsylvania. Why worry about purple states, Clintonistas will say, if you can’t turn out the votes in and nail down the blue ones?

In a related item, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of 20 institutional Democratic fundraisers are engaged in an ugly fight over comments Pelosi made that she believes superdelegates should support the leader of the party’s pledged delegates at the convention.

The group, which supports Clinton, sent Pelosi a stern letter, all but threatening to pull their support for her fundraising efforts in the House unless she backs off of her statement., whose leadership supports Obama, came to Pelosi’s defense, calling the group “fat cats” engaged in the “worst kind of insider politics” and made up of “billionaires bullying our elected leaders into ignoring the will of the voters.” MoveOn began a fundraising campaign of its own – this time, to replace whatever money might be withheld by those donors because of Pelosi’s remarks.

The flap portends big trouble for the Democrats because, as CNN reported, it “illustrates the widening gap in the party between some of its traditional financial backers, many of whom support Clinton, and a Netroots donor base that leans toward Obama.”

All of this is taking its toll on Democratic voters. Also making news this week was the “bitterness index,” a new poll showing that 51 percent – fully half – of the Obama supporters surveyed would be “dissatisfied or upset” if Clinton wins the nomination, and 19 percent would vote for Republican John McCain instead. Likewise, 41 percent of Clinton supporters said they would be unhappy if Obama was their party’s nominee, and 28 percent said they would vote for McCain.

All of that adds up to a summer forecast that is as sunny for McCain as it is stormy for Democrats.

On the blog this weekend: All the good things from this week as well as a look at Meghan McCain’s blog.

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