Somehow, thinking that Hillary Clinton‘s campaign is going to play serious hardball when it comes to influencing the superdelegates comes easily. Of course they’ll play serious hardball: Clinton’s the no-holds-barred fighter. Whether that’s the 100% truth or not, it is certainly a carefully cultivated image. And so I, like many other people, carry around in my head the unquestioned belief that the Clintons “will use every trick in the book â€“- overhanded, evenhanded and underhanded â€“- to try to wrest the nomination from Obama.”
And somehow it doesn’t come quite as easily to think that so will Barack Obama. And that’s the whole carefully cultivated image thing again. But he will, of course. Nobody gets to be where he is — the putative leading contender for the Democratic nomination — without being one hell of a scrappy fighter.
If you take that as a given, there seems to be only one possible outcome to the battle that Clinton is trying to wage to have Michigan and Florida delegates seated at the convention. Because the simple fact of the matter is that Barack Obama has no incentive whatsoever to change the status quo, and the Democratic party seems to have decided that any decision to change the status quo requires the agreement of both campaigns:
The obstacles to a do-over election to pick Michigan’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention seemed to grow Friday, after Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign officials told the state’s top party official that they wouldn’t accept Gov. Jennifer Granholm‘s idea of a party-sponsored primary.
Granholm had suggested a “firehouse primary,” which would allow Democrats to cast their ballots again sometime before June. It would cost about $10 million.
It would be the same procedure Democrats have used in past Michigan presidential caucuses. Polls would be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and any eligible voter who hadn’t voted in the state’s Jan. 15 Republican primary could participate. The voter must be a citizen who turns 18 by the November election and declares himself or herself a Democrat for the day.
Obama’s campaign doesn’t like the idea, said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer.
“That’s what I’ve been told by his campaign, but it’s not my place to inquire about motivations,” said Brewer, who said he thinks a do-over primary has serious financial and logistical problems.
“And we can’t do anything without the agreement of both the campaigns,” he added.
And that’s the whole ball game, right there in a nutshell.
The two campaigns will argue back and forth, and the DNC and the state units will opine from time to time, but all that will happen eventually is that Clinton will milk this issue for everything she can. We’ll hear a lot of outraged rhetoric about the citizens of these great states being denied a voice in the democratic processes of the Democratic party through no fault of their own. The Obama campaign will be roundly castigated for standing in the way of a do-over, thereby re-disenfranchising the enthusiastic and entirely deserving voters of Michigan and Florida.
The Obama campaign will retaliate with the obvious counter-spin: Clinton is whining ex post about things she had cheerfully agreed to ex ante. It’s just a cold, calculated and thoroughly dishonest attempt to try and come up with a few more delegates by underhand means. And the Obama campaign will nevertheless graciously concede that the citizens of Michigan and Florida do indeed deserve a second vote, but they will keep pushing caucuses as the obvious do-over solution, partly because of the much lower price tag, and the unwillingness and/or inability of the states in question and the DNC to foot the bill for do-over primaries.
But the Clinton campaign is already signaling that they will not leave the Obama campaign with an obvious out. Here’s the Clinton campaign’s brilliant strategy to neutralize the high-cost-of-primaries issue:
Meanwhile, James Carville, a Democratic operative and Clinton supporter, said on CNN that he had been calling deep-pocket Democrats and pledged to come up with $15 million to help pay for primaries in Michigan and Florida. He challenged Obama supporter David Wilhelm, a former DNC chairman, to match it.
“I’ll guarantee $15 million and have the Obama people put up $15 million,” Carville said. “And let’s go to the polls come June 7. I’ve got fund-raisers that are lined up ready to go. I think the Democratic Party is going to look absolutely absurd if they don’t have primaries and let these people in Florida and Michigan vote.”
Wilhelm said the issue needs to be solved but was noncommittal to Carville’s suggestion.
On Sunday, a new proposal started to gather steam: a mail-in ballot. Everybody’s still dancing around it a little. This was Howard Dean‘s two-step:
Without endorsing the idea, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean praised a new ballot by mail as a potential resolution to the conflict over providing representation at the party convention to Florida and Michigan…
Clinton supporters naturally think it’s a jolly good idea: “Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), his state’s senior elected Democrat and a Clinton supporter, said a mail-in primary appeared to be the best approach, given logistical constraints.” But the fact remains that even a mail-in ballot costs real money. Not as much as a walk-in ballot certainly, but still real money. (“Nelson estimated a mail-in vote in Florida would cost about $6 million.” As opposed to $20 million for the old-fashioned kind.) And no one is prepared to put up real money (with the notable exception of the Clinton campaign):
State officials in Michigan and Florida have said they will not release more taxpayer money to pay for a do-over of the primary. Dean also has said the national party will not provide funds.
The Obama campaign, of course, has very clear preferences:
The Obama camp, meanwhile, has suggested either a new vote through a less expensive caucusâ€”a format in which Obama has regularly outperformed Clintonâ€”or accepting delegations split evenly between supporters of each candidate.
That translates into: “Sure, let’s re-enfranchise Michigan and Florida, but only as long as it doesn’t cut into our delegate lead.” And that’s why this whole situation has “ugly stalemate” written all over it.
And the mail-in ballot proposal has its detractors too:
But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, said now is not the time for a mail-in ballot. (Note: she’s “a national Clinton co-chair“.)
“We have never conducted a mail-in ballot in Florida, and in an election that is this important, an experiment like that is — now is not the time to test that,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, has also said he doesn’t think there is a fair way to redo the vote in his state.
“There’s no way to have a primary. That’s state law. That can’t be changed, and that can’t be paid for,” he said on ABC‘s “Face the Nation.”
Levin said a mail-in caucus is one possibility, but “there’s some real problems with that, too.”
“Not just cost, but the security issue. How do you make sure that hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million or more ballots, can be properly counted and that duplicate ballots can be avoided,” he said.
Of course, no one has explained yet what the hell a mail-in caucus means. And if there are no existing rules for a mail-in caucus, and new rules have to be written, is there any hope at all of coming up with a set of rules that both the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign would be willing to accept?
Oh, and one more thing: time’s running out.
Mr. Dean did indicate that if Michigan and Florida were to hold new contests, they would have to be completed by about June 10.
That’s about 90 days away. And “Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Department of State … said Florida would need at least 90 days from the time a decision is made to set up any new election.” At least 90 days from the time a decision is made to set up an election that needs to be completed 90 days from now. And days of squabbling still left to go before any decision gets made.
Definitely looks like an ugly stalemate to me.