Saturday, May 31, 2008

Today's DNC decision to set the pace for summer campaigns

(Originally published 5/31/08)

As you’re perusing your newspaper this morning, the Democratic National Committee is finally getting down to the ugly business of dealing with its delegate mess.

You have heard – probably 3,000 times by now – about the decision by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to excommunicate the delegates from Michigan and Florida because those states held their presidential primaries before the DNC-approved starting date.

The Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state.

And it wasn’t any big deal, until Barack Obama began to build a lead over Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday and in the caucuses that followed.

As’s Joe Conason put it, Clinton’s “attitude toward the validity of the Michigan and Florida primaries shifted radically when she became certain that she was likely to win them – and when she also realized that she needed their delegates to compete.”

Clinton and her people argue that Democrats can’t afford to enforce its own party rules because it would risk alienating voters they need in the fall. After all, Clinton’s surrogates argue, Michigan is full of those working-class white folks we’ve heard so much about, and Florida – you remember what happened there in 2000, don’t you? (wink, wink) – it’s a swing state, for crying out loud!

For their part, Obama and his supporters argue that neither state’s results accurately reflect the will of the voters: In the case of the former, Obama had withdrawn his name from consideration, and Clinton won on what Fox News’ Brit Hume called “a Soviet-style ballot;” in the Sunshine State, many folks argue that because they thought the DNC wasn’t going to recognize their delegates anyway, they didn’t go to the polls at all.

In its prega—I mean, pre-meeting rundown, CNN succinctly summarized the issues Rules and Bylaws Committee members will have to decide:

  • How many delegates to seat, if any, from each state: Michigan lost 156 to the penalty, and Florida has 210 at stake. Party lawyers ruled Thursday that the DNC can legally enforce a 50 percent delegate penalty on each state.
  • How to apportion the delegates it does choose to seat: This is easier with Florida, where the popular vote broke 50 percent for Clinton and 33 for Obama. But it’s much tougher with Michigan, where Clinton won 55 percent of the votes to 40 percent cast for “uncommitted.”
  • What to do with the popular votes: If delegates are seated, popular votes represented by those delegates can be counted. Again, Michigan is the challenge here; does Obama get all the “uncommitted” popular votes?

Early money is on at least half of each state’s delegates being seated, with Michigan’s delegates being split 50-50.

And fellow political junkies, rejoice: CNN will provide live coverage of the meeting beginning at 8 a.m. central today and stream wall-to-wall video of the meeting on its web site.

Whatever happens, Obama is expected to come away from Saturday’s action retaining at least an 80-pledged delegate lead going into Sunday’s Puerto Rico primary and the Montana/South Dakota finale on Tuesday.

Yes, the primary season finale. It has finally come.

But today’s meeting in Washington will go a long way toward determining whether the general election campaign actually starts on Wednesday morning, or whether we are still talking primary politics through August.

On the blog this weekend, a look at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee’s “Dean 25,” and some cool news about Alabama’s window into the Democratic National Convention:

No comments: