The Democrats’ Cow Pasture

by Gloria Feldt on May 31st, 2008
in Election Watch and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s the big day when the Democrats will find out whether they can effectively get out of the pasture of cow patties they created for themselves without either stepping in too many or causing a stampede among the supporters of either
Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Check out this very thorough analysis Anita, a reader of Heartfeldt placed on another post.

The Democratic Party leaders voted on Aug. 25, 2007, to sanction Florida Democrats for moving the date of their presidential primary to January 29, a week before the February 5 date which the party’s rules had set as the official start of primary season. They excepted the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary which have traditionally been the earliest–no one wanted to tamper with that little bit of presidential election theater even though it gives two small states way more influence in framing the narrative of the race than they deserve. Then in typical Democratic party fashion, they allowed South Carolina and Nevada to go early in the interest of geographic and ethnic diversity. New Hampshire’s state law requires them to hold their primary at least a week earlier than any other, setting off another series of oscillating primary date debates.

To make a long story short, it began to look something like the old children’s game of placing hands over hands into a tower and moving whoever’s hand was on the bottom to the top of the tower with increasing velocity until everybody disintegrates into a writhing pile of bodies on the floor. Michigan retaliated by moving their primary to January 15, and they were sanctioned accordingly.

To add to the fun, state party chairs asked the candidates not to campaign in the offending states and they did not. All names remained on the Florida ballots; Clinton and several other candidates remained on the Michigan ballot, where Obama and some others had withdrawn their names, though Obama’s surrogate John Conyers mounted a campaign asking voters to vote for “uncommitted”, meaning wink wink, Obama. Clinton won the popular vote decisively in both states.

The Democrats ruled that Michigan and Florida would be penalized by losing all their delegates to the national convention.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party did what Republicans do; when similar issues came up for them, they agreed to cut the offending states’ delegates in half, mended their fences, and moved on. Of course, John McCain’s clear and swift nailing down of the party’s nomination helped avoid further bickering.

And who knew at the time that for the Democrats, the situation would be quite different, with two top candidates locked almost neck and neck as they enter the final stretch the nominating battle, making those votes in Michigan and Florida up much greater importance than could have been predicted early on. Obama has a 200-vote lead in delegates, but if Michigan and Florida votes get counted, Clinton would be ahead in the popular vote, and strengthens her argument that she is best positioned to win the big swing states the party must capture in November.

That’s why in Washington today, the 30 members of the Democratic National Committee‘s Rules and Bylaws Committee will hear challenges brought by Clinton and her supporters to their rulings that barred Florida and Michigan delegations from the national convention in Denver, and why it’s almost impossible for them to come out of this without throwing one side or the other into a rage and starting a bitter cow pattie throwing contest that can only sully them all.

Clinton supporters are massed outside the hearing. Word last week was that Obama supporters captured most of the seats inside the hearing early on. Obama asked his supporters not to demonstrate outside, ostensibly to appear above the fray in his Mr. Cool fashion, perhaps because they are confident they have secured enough committee votes to assure him of the nomination no matter how the decisions go. Clinton’s lawyers argue the states in question have been sufficiently punished by lack of campaign activity in their states, and they echo Clinton’s mantra that it is a bedrock principle of the Democratic party to count every vote.

The outcome of this meeting will almost certainly determine the outcome of the Democratic primary. It is absolutely incumbent on the Rules and Bylaws Committee to find a solution that allows both candidates to come out with honor and dignity intact, if they want to go forward into the general election without the spectre of a disarrayed party snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They should start by owning the stupidity of their draconian rules in the first place and give themselves the room to find a solution outside the box of arcane legal maneuvers–a solution based in fairness to the voters of both Michigan and Florida who were pawns in the contest of egos between their so-called party leaders.

Meanwhile, I hope the committee members all have their tall boots on.

Update on Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 09:52PM by Registered CommenterGloria Feldt

OK, I’ve never posted follow up before, but I’m trying again after losing what I wrote a couple of hours ago.

Here’s MSNBC’s delegate count after the decisions of the DNC/RBC meeting after much drama made their expected Solomonic decision and allowed the Michigan and Florida delegates half a vote each:

Out of the day, Clinton got 87 pledged delegates to Obama‘s 63 for a net of 24. (52.5 to 33.5 out of Florida; 34.5 to 29.5 out of Michigan.)

Obama is now 62.5 delegates away from clinching the nomination with a new magic number 2,118. This is when the nine (cut to 4.5) Edwards pledged delegates (out of 13) in Florida, who have pledged to vote for Obama, are factored in. Without them, Obama would be 67 away.

Clinton, on the other hand, would need 238 delegates.

NBC NEWS has also now added officially 5.5 more superdelegates for Obama and 7.5 for Clinton (half of 8-6 for Clinton in FL; and 7-5 for her in MI).

Assuming Clinton and Obama split the remaining 86 delegates at stakes in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana evenly (43 apiece), that would put Sen. Obama 19.5 away from clinching the nomination. (So, for all practical purposes, he would need about 20 superdelegates to hit the magic number.) Clinton would need 195.

The NBC NEWS Delegate Counts:

PLEDGED: 1712 to 1587
EDWARDS PL. DELEGATES: 16.5 to 0 (adding the 4.5 from Florida)
OVERALL: 2,055.5 to 1,880

They didn’t avoid all the cow patties: Like, why in the world did they shave four Michigan delegates from Clinton’s  ledger when Obama is so close to having the required number that it wouldn’t have changed that likely result? Mistake, unnecessarily giving Clinton supporters, like those pictured here demonstrating outside the meeting today, something to fester about just when the Democrats need to unite everybody around the winning candidate.
I predict that by the end of the last primaries–Montana and South Dakota June 3–the necessary number of superdelegates needed to declare a winner will have  committed their votes. That gives enough time before the August 25-27 convention for Howard Dean and the party leadership to apply enough tlc to heal the raw skin and frayed nerves of the party regulars they’ve offended and will need to win in November.

But the appearance of unity doesn’t necessarily translate to enthusiasm. Winning the general election will require enough enthusiasm by enough people to continue getting out the vote in the enormous numbers that have made this primary so extraordinary. I’d say they still better be careful where they’re walking and try to clean up the pasture as they go.

Update on Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 10:38PM by Registered CommenterGloria Feldt

Check out this very thorough analysis posted by Anita on another Heartfeldt blog entry.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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