Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ti-ime Is On Her Side

If you’re coaching basketball and your team is looking winded and the other side has just run off ten or twelve unanswered points and clearly has all the momentum, it is time to make the “T” sign and call time-out. For Hillary Clinton, the time-out was built into the primary schedule and it came none too soon. With his string of wins, Barack Obama clearly had Clinton on the ropes, and if there were a bunch of primaries next week, his momentum may have overwhelmed her. But, because of the genius of various states in moving their primaries as far forward as possible, for the rest of this month the only delegates up for grab will be from Wisconsin, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands. (When, exactly, did we give Guam and the Virgin Islands any votes for president?)

So, now that she has been saved by the bell, what exactly can Senator Clinton do to take back the momentum? Of course she will pour all her energy and borrowed money into the big March prizes, Texas and Ohio. Hillary’s success this year has been mainly in the big states and she has reason to hope that that trend will continue. In Texas she expects to score high with Latinos, who until this past weekend were not particularly captivated by Barack Obama. In Ohio, she’s hoping that her Clinton name will bring back memories of the ‘90s and she’ll get the kind of support that Bill Clinton received in the Buckeye State.

But, I’m not sure that Hillary is only relying on recapturing the heart of the voters. Her strategy must include continued strong-arm tactics to gain the support of the “Super Delegates.” No, dear reader, these are not superheroes. Super delegates are elected officials and party bigwigs to whom the Democratic Party gives free passes to and votes at their quadrennial convention. Super delegates were introduced into the Democratic Party nominating process after the party’s defeat in the 1980 election. The theory was that super delegates were necessary to protect the party from the voters choosing a candidate who political pros thought was unelectable. It is clear that in the past the super delegates have saved the party from the folly of the electorate. In 1984, for example, the super delegates threw their support to Walter Mondale to avoid the party nominating the unelectable Gary Hart. So, even if Hillary doesn’t win big in Texas and Ohio, the fellow aspiring to be the country’s first “First Man” can continue to twist arms to get the supers to reject the will of the people.

That the party that was once called “The Democracy” should have such an undemocratic feature as super delegates seems rather strange to me. Do the voters really want elected and unelected party bigwigs dictating who the party’s nominee is? I fear that should Senator Obama win a significant number of the remaining primaries but be denied the nomination by the party’s super delegates the voters may rebel in November. Even though I’m not sure that the voters have done a better job in picking party nominees than did the old smoke-filled room method, I think it is too late to go back to a system in which party insiders choose the nominee regardless of the will of the voters.

Having said this, I think it is interesting to look at the numbers. As of today, Senator Obama has won 1112 delegates in primaries and caucuses compared to 978 won by Senator Clinton, giving him a lead of 134. However, among those super delegates who have expressed their preference, Clinton leads Obama 233 to 147, cutting Obama’s total lead to only 48. These numbers seem small, but in a nomination contest this close every delegate is important. So, both the Clinton and Obama campaigns will be working hard to convince the 337 super delegates that have not yet chosen to side with their candidate.

And then there is the question of Florida and Michigan. As you know the Democratic National Committee has “punished” these two states for violating party rules in moving up their primary dates by denying both states any delegates at the convention. I will not discuss the wisdom or fairness of disenfranchising Democratic voters in those states. The fact is that the DNC made this decision and it affected the decisions of the candidates to contest those state’s primaries. Obama campaigned in neither state and even had his name removed from the ballot in Michigan. The Democratic voters in those states who bothered voting gave Senator Clinton significant victories in what were meaningless elections. Or were they?

The DNC has been showing signs of backing down. Maybe it is worried about the image of nobody standing up at the convention when Florida and Michigan are called on a roll call. So, it has offered Democrats in those states the chance to regain their delegates by holding caucuses to choose them. As far as I know, neither state party has shown any interest in the DNC solution.

So, what happens now? Senator Clinton, who won both “meaningless” primaries, is urging that the Florida and Michigan delegates, most pledged to her, be seated. Senator Obama and his supporters object that this is unfair because he did not contest those states because of the DNC decision. Undoubtedly, unless some other solution is found, this dispute will have to be decided at the convention. The delegates that Senator Clinton “won” in the Michigan and Florida primaries will show up and demand to be seated. Whether or not those delegates are seated may ultimately be decided by a vote of the already seated delegates.

And, what about the courts? Undoubtedly, some voters in either or both Michigan and Florida are going to march up to their local United States District Court and ask that the judge order that delegates from their state be seated at the Democratic National Convention. (A United States District Court in Florida has already dismissed a suit by Florida Senator Bill Nelson to force the Democratic National Committee to seat delegates to be elected in Florida’s primary. Nelson v. Dean, No. 4:07cv427-RH/WCS (N.D. Fla. Dec. 14, 2007)). The precedents may favor the right of the party to control the method of selecting its nominees but a lawsuit would sure be messy.

I see no fair way of settling this dispute. If the decision of the DNC is upheld, the Democratic voters of Florida and Michigan are deprived of representation at the convention. If, on the other hand, the decision is reversed, Senator Clinton will derive an unfair advantage because the delegates in Florida and Michigan were not won in contested elections.

So, dear reader, there is certainly reason for Senator Clinton to be optimistic. She can fight the election battle for delegates in Texas and Ohio without being overwhelmed by Senator Obama’s momentum. She can win over a significant majority of the 337 uncommitted super delegates. And, she can find some way to get those Florida and Michigan delegates seated. For political junkies like this maven, this year is turning out to be a real blast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More importantly, why is the Maven not a delegate?