The Michigan-Florida showdown

Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters converge on the nation's capital this weekend to press for recognition of the results from those two rogue primaries.
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Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters converge on the nation's capital this weekend to press for recognition of the results from those two rogue primaries.

The remaining Democratic presidential primaries in Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Montana will be completed by next Tuesday night, June 3, with Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton expected to split the delegates in these three relatively unimportant contests.

The big event in the nominating race will take place tomorrow, May 31, in Washington, D.C., when the Democratic Party's rules committee grapples with how to deal with Michigan and Florida delegations to the August national convention, which were elected outside party rules.

I hope I am wrong, but I do not expect the rules committee to resolve the dispute or end the nominating race.

To remind: Both states held January primaries in violation of party rules — although warned in advance their delegates would not be certified if the primaries were held that early. All Democratic presidential candidates pledged not to campaign in the two states. Obama even had his name removed from the Michigan ballot.

Nonetheless, the states conducted the early primaries with big voter turnouts. Since she has not been able to close Obama's delegate lead by other means, Clinton asserts that the two delegations should be seated and the primaries' results ratified. (She won majorities in both places.)

If party rules were strictly enforced, neither state would have its delegates seated at the August Denver convention. However, as a practical matter, no Democrat wants to hand the prospective Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, a political gift by alienating voters in those two big electoral states. Thus, tomorrow's try to arrive at some pragmatic outcome that will please Florida and Michigan voters as well as Obama and Clinton.

Several compromise formulas have been suggested. But I see none which both Obama and Clinton could accept. There were initial trys to schedule rerun, sanctioned primaries in both states sometime next week. But that fell through. There are proposals now to seat parts of the two states' delegations, to seat them all with half votes, to arbitrarily award delegates to Obama and Clinton on a 50-50 or other basis, and so on. But the only outcome which conceivably could satisfy the Clinton forces would be validation of the original January results. That will not happen.

Michigan and Florida Clinton supporters are converging on the capital to hold public demonstrations tomorrow. Full-page ads have run in major newspapers urging women, in particular, to mobilize behind the Clinton effort. Harold Ickes, coordinating Clinton forces in the rules committee, is a hard-nosed operator who will not be moved one inch by pleas for reasonableness or a mutually acceptable compromise.

Bottom line: I expect Clinton to present herself as the aggrieved party Sunday, going into the final three primaries, and pledge to carry the Michigan/Florida battle to the convention itself.

Party leaders trying to force Clinton withdrawal

Meantime, Democratic national chair Howard Dean, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid are urging all uncommitted, non-elected "super-delegates" to the convention to commit themselves next week, after the last three primaries, to one candidate or the other. They believe Obama would gain a strong majority of the uncommitted and that the nominating contest thus could be ended.

If that rush to Obama were to happen, Clinton might feel pressure to withdraw without pressing the Michigan/Florida issue. But it is a longshot that uncommitteds would swing immediately and decisively, as Dean, Pelosi, and Reid want them to do.

As a lifelong Democrat, I do not see the present situation as some kind of crisis demanding immediate resolution. There have been far thornier delegate-seating disputes than this and far more toxic campaigns than the present one between the party's presidential contenders. I suspect that, before the Denver convention, most super-delegates will have made commitments. I also suspect that behind-the-scenes efforts will by then have arrived at some Michigan/Florida compromise. Clinton will receive concessions in return — a featured speaking role at the convention, inclusion of her health-care plank in the party platform, perhaps a change in nominating rules for 2012.

Expressing a variation on the familiar "the game is not over until the fat lady sings" formulation, Clinton last week declared that "the campaign is not over until the lady in the pants suit says so."

Fair enough. Let the process proceed. If either candidate crosses ethical lines in the period ahead, he/she should be called on it. In such an instance, super-delegates likely would act immediately to decide the nominee.

Barring some unforeseen revelation or self-destructive action, Obama is headed toward the nomination. But Hillary has every right to play the full nine innings, as allowed by the rules, until Obama has the clinching delegate total.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of