5.28.2008

Rules and Bylaws Committee: One more attempt to resolve FL and MI

On May 31st, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to address challenges to its treatment of Florida and Michigan's delegations and discuss possible resolutions. Such questions will soon be referred to the convention's credential committee, and it was widely expected that the DNC would simply refer any decision to that not-yet-operational committee. Instead, the RBC accepted to listen to Florida and Michigan's petitions. On Saturday morning, the RBC will listen both the state parties and those who brought the challenge forward (Senator Levin, who has long fought the primary calendar, will speak on Michigan's behalf); the two campaigns will also present their demands and their positions.

The two questions that need to be addressed are: First, should Florida and Michigan superdelegates be seated independently of what is decided about the pledged delegation? Second, what shall be done with the pledged delegates and how much weight should be given to the January 15th and January 29th votes?

The Clinton campaign has a lot riding on this meeting. Not only do they need to score a big net gain of delegates to keep the race close enough that they survive the first week of June but they want to legitimize their efforts to count Florida and Michigan in the popular vote. The campaign insists they are ahead in the popular vote counting the FL and MI results, and it will be more difficult for the Obama campaign to retort that totals from these two states should not be counted if they agree to allocate some delegates based on their results at the RBC.

Both candidates have their supporters on the committee which makes it virtually impossible that Clinton would get her full wish: That both delegations be fully seated, be given full voting rights and that they be allocated according to the January votes. The Obama campaign -- whose position right now is to split the delegations equally -- has signaled its willingness to meet "halfway," which could mean granting Hillary half of the pledged delegate leads she earned in January. Today, Clinton's options were reduced further and Obama's position was strengthened when the Democratic Party's lawyers issued a legal memo explaining the DNC could not fully seat the delegations and that it had to settle for reducing its voting rights by half -- which is roughly the punishment the RNC imposed on Florida and Michigan, though that did not prevent McCain from sealing his nomination in the Sunshine state.

Note that even if Clinton did get her full wish granted it would leave her far from her rival, and far from the nomination. That is why I wrote that Clinton is trying to keep it close enough to survive the first week of June rather than overtake Obama's lead. If she had gotten the DNC to recognize some delegations back in January or February, she would have kept closer contact with Obama and might not have spent the next 4 months on the defensive, having to justify why she is staying in and defend her turf. That obviously did not happen, and Clinton is now simply trying to prolong the game.

Obama is very close to 2,026 right now and they are looking to secure enough superdelegates in the days following June 3rd to surpass that number. Having hundreds of new delegates thrown in the game as well as more uncommitted superdelegates will raise the number needed to secure the nomination, giving Clinton hope of keeping the nomination fight alone past the endorsement wave that will likely follow June 3rd and strengthening her VP claims.

In the midst of this showdown between the Obama and Clinton machines, it is important to remember that the DNC has a very different set of concerns: How to balance the need to represent Michigan and Florida at the convention with the fact that they broke the rules? The Democratic world is worried that, if Florida and Michigan's delegations are recognized, there will be no way to keep any order in the primary calendar and no incentive for states to recognize the rules. Even an RNC-style half-punishment could no be enough, given how important FL and MI were in the GOP nomination fight.

Update: Florida Democrats were hoping to force the DNC to seat their delegates by going through the courts, but a Florida judge just tossed out the lawsuit saying that parties have the right to make their own rules.

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