March 07, 2008

What to do about Florida and Michigan

After the American Century

The news media and the blogosphere are full of discussions about what to do about the unseated delegates from Florida and Michigan. You probably recall that both of these states moved their primaries up before Super Tuesday. They wanted to be important and would not wait, even though the Democratic and the Republican National Committees both warned that they would be punished for this. The Democratic National Committee decided that none of their delegates would count. This was harsh, but the judgement was public, and the two states might have rescheduled their elections to later dates. They chose not to do this, and now have created a difficult situation. 

In the extremely tight race for the nomination Obama and Clinton would love to get some of those delegates, especially Clinton, because she "won" in each state. But there was no campaign, no personal appearances, no shaking of hands, no engagement between the public and the candidates. Indeed, Obama took his name off the ballot in Michigan, as did John Edwards, so Clinton ran unopposed there. This makes it hard to see that she "won" when 45% of the voters still did not choose her. In Florida Obama's name was still on the ballot, but he did not advertise or appear there in any way.

The Clinton campaign wants the vote to count as it stands, while the Obama camp feels that you cannot change the rules in the middle of the game. But both sides are wrong. It is patently unfair to accept these results, and it is also unfair to deny the citizens of these two states any representation at the Democratic National Convention. What should be done?

Step back a moment and consider whether this is not rather like a rained-out sporting event. The contestants did not come into the arena, but the fans there shouted at each other. But there was no real contest. When a baseball game is rained out, it gets replayed later in the season. By analogy, these two primaries need to be played later in the season, to help discover who has won the pennant, or Democratic nomination. Only then do we know who should be in the World Series, or general election in November. 

The two state governors are saying that they might be willing to hold new elections, but that the Democratic National Committee has to pay for it. This is politically motivated nonsense. The two states should be delighted to get all that publicity, all those reporters, all those volunteers spending huge sums on motels and meals and donuts. Are they really going to demand to be paid because they broke the rules and created this problem in the first place? However, Florida's Republican Governor Crist seems quite delighted to have this opportunity to complicate the Democratic Party's problems.

We need to hear from Michigan and Florida voters. They are large states, important states, states with many delegates. But ultimately, they will only give advice. They will not be able to eliminate one candidate in favor of the other. For with two extra primaries, neither Obama nor Clinton will be able to mount a 400 vote lead. That is what one of them needs to do to reach 2025 pledged delegates. Even with a replay of the Michigan and Florida primaries, in the end the 796 superdelegates are still going to make the choice. It is hard to see how either the loser or the American people can possibly feel that it was a fair result. Worse still, some voters might think that a party which is unable to organize and run a system of primary elections, is not ready to run the country. One can only hope that the Democratic leadership finds an elegant way to resolve the crisis it has created.