As all political junkies know, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates after those states violated DNC rules by moving up their primary dates before Super Tuesday on February 5. Hillary Clinton won the primary elections that were held in those states, but no real campaigning took place and Clinton’s name was the only one to appear on the Michigan ballot.
Now that she is in dire need of more delegates in her race to catch Barack Obama, Clinton and her team have been calling for the Florida and Michigan delegates to be counted after all. Not surprisingly, Obama’s team wants no part of “changing the rules in the middle of the game” and is quite content with the delegate count just the way it is.
THE “DO OVER” PLAN SURFACES
A bloody convention fight over whether to seat these delegates seemed to be in the offing. Then last weekend, Florida Governor Charlie Crist set political tongues wagging by suggesting that Florida could hold a “do over” primary, at the state’s expense, for the Democrats later this year. DNC Chariman Howard Dean seemed outwardly delighted, saying, “If they would like to fix that problem so that we can seat Florida without any problems, of course we would like to seat Florida.”
On the surface this is the ideal solution for the Democrats. A do-over election would diffuse grumbling that the nominee would be some how tainted or illegitimate without counting delegates from two key states who represent millions of voters. By offering a new election in Florida (and perhaps Michigan, if that state would follow suit) the DNC would avoid offending two states that will be crucial to the Democrats’ chances in November. A new election also would provide the opportunity for the candidates to spend time in Florida where John McCain now leads both Democrats in head-to-head match ups.
On Wednesday, Governor Crist (a Republican) and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (a Democrat) turned up the heat by issuing a joint declaration calling it “reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence the voices of 5,163,271 Americans” and asking both the DNC and the RNC (which cut each state’s delegation in half as its determined penalty) to resolve the matter and seat their states’ delegates.
Crist also seemed to edge away from the idea of paying for the redo by indicating, “What I think we ought to do is, the people who’ve already voted in Florida, that vote needs to be respected. It needs to be recognized. Those delegates need to be seated. And it’s not just the Democratic Party. It’s my own party as well. They’re not seating half of ours. So I hope that cooler heads prevail. I hope that the leaders of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee will seat all the delegates at the respective conventions. The people deserve to be heard."
DNC Chairman Howard Dean then tossed the ball back in the Michigan and Florida courts, telling them to come up with a do over plan.
THE DO OVER PLAN IS THE ONLY VIABLE PLAN
Calling the DNC to simply seat the already elected delegate is a non-starter not only for the DNC, but also for the Obama camp (who would rightfully claim they never competed in these states). Only by holding new elections or caucuses in Florida and Michigan, entirely in keeping with the DNC rules, could the DNC avoid compromising its position that it had full authority to set the primary calendar and avoid offending the other 48 states. As Charlie Cook explained, “All those states that waited patiently in line for their turn have no sympathy for the two states that jumped the line and tried to steal the money and attention that all of these rules-abiding states wanted.”
But what is really going on here and why would a Republican Governor, a close ally of McCain (and Vice Presidential contender) want to throw the Democrats a life line, perhaps even one at taxpayer expense?
The simple answer: preventing a quick resolution of the Democratic race makes life more difficult for the nominee, whichever contender that may be. It’s a warm hearted idea that Machiavelli would have envied.
Larry J. Sabato explained, “This is a gigantic mess for the Democrats if the nominating contest continues.” With Clinton’s wins on Tuesday, the prospect of an elongated struggle looms large. Sabato notes: “She’ll still be behind in delegates, but she’ll have the momentum. The superdelegates may be confused and unsure of what to do. Under just the right set of circumstances, the nomination itself could come down to Michigan and Florida. What do the Democrats do? They have no plan.”
And Governor Crist rides to their rescue. Or does he? The Democratic chattering class would like nothing better than to shove Clinton off the stage sooner rather than later. She is unlikely to catch Obama in the pledged delegate count, but is inflicting daily damage, making McCain’s argument for him that Obama is untested and unready to be president.
Michael Barone points out, “The tenor of the race [over the last week] has been pretty tough on Obama who is still likely to be the nominee.” Remarking that Obama has received a “pasting over from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy” Barone says that Obama now faces ongoing, tough questions about his relationship with indicted Chicago businessman Tony Rezko and his economic advisor’s contacts with Canadian officials.
Shooing Clinton out of the primary race becomes nearly impossible if she can point to the prospect of additional primaries in Florida and Michigan and a pot of over 350 delegates that could fall into her column. Moreover, it is very possible that in redo elections in Michigan and Florida Clinton could win both races and knock Obama out of the lead for good. After all, she won both states before. Michigan, like Ohio, has a large population of downscale Democrats concerned about the economy. Florida, with a large Hispanic population (many of whom may not be thrilled with the notion of Obama sitting down for tea with Raul Castro), could well deliver a meaningful win for Clinton (just as Hispanics in Texas broke heavily her way).
WHO WILL PAY ?
As with most knotty political issues this one may boil down to money. What is in it for a state legislature which would have to approve the election and authorize tax payer funds for the election? Democrats would be pleased to put their state front and center in the Democratic race and Republicans may quickly see the benefits to their own party’s nominee. (Whatever the political strategy behind Crist’s plan, Florida legislators, according to Barone, could honestly say “We’re giving Florida voters a real voice.”)
John Pitney, Professor at Claremont McKenna College, acknowledges that cost may be an objection, yet notes “Crist can say that it would increase Florida’s national clout, thereby improving its chances of getting federal largesse. That’s not a McCain-style argument, but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
In the end, some compromise on funding is likely to emerge as the parties, encouraged by Governor Crist’s original idea slowly inch their way to the notion that do over primaries are the only viable solution. Added primary races in Michigan and Florida may give Clinton new hope and her only real chance to catch Obama. Obama will be hard pressed to object to allowing “every vote to count” and every state to weigh in.
Whether she claws her way back into the lead, or merely scratches up her opponent along the way, Republicans stand to benefit. As Pitney put it, “It’s a great way to get more delegates for Clinton and prolong the Democratic nomination contest. The longer it drags out, the better it is for McCain.”
In that sense, at least Clinton supporters and Republicans can agree: Governor Crist had a fine idea.