At 3:15 p.m. this afternoon, "Hillary Clinton" sent a "letter" to "Barack Obama"--and hundreds of reporters--asking that he "join [her] in working with representatives from Florida and Michigan and the
Democratic National Committee to arrive at a solution that honors the votes of
the millions of people who went to the polls" in those disputed primaries. The point? To force her foe to agree that the January votes in the Great Lakes and Sunshine States were legitimate and that their delegates should be apportioned accordingly--which, since she "won" both contests, would undoubtedly benefit her. Anything less, she implied, would be undemocratic.
Seeing as "Barack Obama" has yet to give "Hillary Clinton" his answer, I thought I'd supply one for him:
Of course, the Obama campaign has its fair share of objections. For starters, there's that pesky, old-fashioned, admittedly absurd notion known as "following the rules." The Democratic Party prohibits any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding its primary before Feb. 5. So when Florida and Michigan threatened in late 2007 to pull the trigger on Jan. 15 and Jan. 29, respectively, the DNC gave them a choice: reschedule--or lose your delegates. They refused, hence their current no-delegate status. According to critics, reinstating those delegates now would undermine the DNC's authority over the nominating process; who will stop Guam, they say, when it schedules its primary for Thanksgiving 2011?
The second reason: last winter, both Clinton and Obama deferred to the DNC and agreed not to "campaign or participate" in either election; Obama even removed his name from the Michigan slate. So while Clinton "beat" her rival 50-33 in Florida and trounced "uncommitted" 55-40 in the Great Lakes State, one can't help but suspect that not campaigning and/or not appearing on the ballot somewhat affected Obama's showing--not to mention that turnout has a way of declining when voters are told that the election doesn't matter.
Finally, there's the stubborn little fact that Clinton completely opposed recognizing Michigan and Florida until after the primaries--i.e., when she realized she might need their delegates to win the nomination. "It's clear that this election they're having [in Michigan] is not going to count for anything," she said during an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio in October 2007. She wasn't alone. Two months earlier, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes actually voted to strip the rogue states of their delegates as a member of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws committee--"to prevent the gaming of the system," he said. Later than fall, Patti Solis Doyle, then Clinton's campaign manager, pledged not to compete in either contest--and was unequivocal as well. "We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process... and the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role," she said. "Thus, we will... adhere to the DNC-approved nominating calendar." And when Michigan pushed for an early vote in 2004, then-DNC chairman--and current Clinton aide--Terry McAuliffe put his foot down. "If I allow you to do that, the whole system collapses," McAuliffe said (at least according to his memoir)."The closest [Michigan's delegates will] get to Boston will be watching it on television. I will not let you break this entire nominating process for one state. The rules are the rules." But when Clinton "won" Michigan on Jan. 15--and presumably caught a glimpse of the polling that showed her well ahead in Florida--she quickly changed her tune. "I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election," she said on Jan. 25. "And so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan." Ickes, Solis Doyle and McAuliffe immediately fell in line.
So I'd say it's understandable if the Obama campaign doesn't seem particularly eager to dole out Florida and Michigan's 300 pledged delegates in accordance with each state's illegitimate popular vote--after all, Clinton would be gaining far more delegates than she deserves (and enough, her campaign seems to think, to keep her candidacy alive). But a little logic--and back-of-the-envelope math--shows that Obama has nothing to lose by giving Clinton what she wants.
Here goes. In Florida, the former First Lady "won" 105 delegates to Obama's 67, while in Michigan Clinton "won" 73 to uncommitted's 55. For the sake of argument, let's award all those uncommitted votes to Obama. That brings his two-state total to 122; Clinton gains 178. Has she caught up in the current pledged-delegate count? Nope. Obama led 1589 to 1424 before, according to RealClear Politics; he now leads 1711 to 1602. What's more, it's impossible for Clinton to close the gap by June 3--even with Florida and Michigan in her column. Assuming she wins 60 percent of the remaining primary delegates--a very generous assumption, considering that Obama is heavily favored in Oregon, South Dakota and Montana--she'd still trail by 55 (2059-2004) at the end of regulation.
In other words, close but no cigar. With Florida and Michigan in the mix--and the new magic number set at 2,209--both candidates would still need some superdelegate support to cross the finish line. In this case, Obama would wind up 150 short of a majority, a setback from the 88 he'd need if the rogue states weren't included in the count. But the news for Clinton is worse. Believe it or not, in my Florida/Michigan/60-40 fantasy scenario she'd wake up on June 4 further from the nomination than if we'd just given her 60 percent of the remaining primary delegates and left Florida and Michigan alone. That is, 205 superdels short vs. 199.
And if it was difficult to imagine the superdelegates choosing Clinton over Obama before he conceded Florida and Michigan--he's outpaced her five to one among them since Super Tuesday--just imagine how inconceivable it would seem afterward. Obama will have taken the highest possible road. He will have allayed any lingering fears about alienating local voters in the fall. In an unprecedented (and unwarranted) show of magnanimity, he will have awarded Clinton every disputed delegate she could ever want--even the ones from a primary where his name didn't appear on the ballot. He will have offered a big, fat olive branch to all of her supporters. And he will have eliminated her last rationale for staying in the race. If you think the superdelegates will side with Clinton after that, think again. As Bob Buckhorn, a pro-Clinton
consultant in Tampa, told the St. Petersburg Times today, such a move "could potentially open the floodgates for superdelegates to come
on board, if he was that gracious and that comfortable in his
Again, Obama has nothing to lose. I'm not saying he has to give in to Clinton, or even that he should. For Florida, his campaign is pushing a 50-50 delegate split instead, and Clinton has already refused to honor the Michigan state party's proposed 69-59 compromise--which shows that she, for one, has no intention of meeting anyone halfway. My point is simply this: Obama will win the nomination no matter what happens with Florida and Michigan--and may win it sooner, and in better political shape, if he lets Clinton have her way.
So why not?