Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Let Michigan And Florida Count - By Going Last

Let Michigan And Florida Count - By Going Last

Long ago, in the days of polyester, Super Tuesday was the last big day of the nominating contest, not the beginning. The first time I ever heard the term used was back in the last two-way dead heat nomination contest: Ronald Reagan vs. Gerald Ford in 1976. That Super Tuesday was a three state contest -- California, Ohio, New Jersey -- on June 8. June 8.

Back in the Bicentennial era, states tried to maximize their influence by going last. Of course, now that wisdom has been turned on its head, and 24 states tried to grab a bigger role by going as early as the rules allowed. But they watered down their own influence and got roughly one airport rally each if they were lucky, while patient Pennsylvania stands to get six weeks all to itself by waiting until April 22.

The irony is even more bitter for the two states that stepped on Iowa's toes. Michigan and Florida broke the Democratic National Committee's calendar rules and went too early, hoping to stake a place at the table. Their reward? No delegates, no campaigning, and in Michigan's case a mostly blank ballot. If they had waited to go last, rather than first, they may have had the influence they craved.

And they may still have that option. Michigan DNC member Debbie Dingell says the DNC is pushing Michigan and Florida to toss the results from their renegade January primaries and choose delegates, who would be seated without controversy, in June caucuses instead. It's almost like some of the illegal immigrant rhetoric: you broke the rules, get in the back of the line, but you have a path to citizenship.

They should jump at the chance.

Sure, the front of the line here in Iowa was fun. We got to cross the whole second tier off the short list all by ourselves -- after serious consideration, mind you -- and we elevated Barack Obama over John Edwards as the Not Clinton candidate. But this year, the end of the road looks just as exciting as the beginning.

Michigan, though, is probably too stubborn to take the opportunity. Key leaders in the state, including Dingell, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and especially Sen. Carl Levin, are deeply, viscerally committed to not just maximizing Michigan's role, but to ending the early status of Iowa and New Hampshire forever.

They're also deeply committed to Hillary Clinton, who's publicly called for seating the Florida and Michigan delegates from the primaries, was the only leading candidate to leave her name on the Michigan ballot, and held a Florida victory rally moments after the polls closed and the voluntary campaign ban ended. Dingell's husband Rep. John Dingell, who's been in Congress for 53 years now and is the longest serving House member in history, endorsed Clinton today.

But their rule-breaking brinksmanship doesn't help their party or their candidate. Iowa's Democrats, like Democrats everywhere, believe in letting peoples' votes count, and understand the importance of swing states Michigan and Florida in a general election. But we also believe in fair process and fair play, and three of the four official early states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada -- are also swing states. Simply seating the delegates from the renegade primaries is a slap in the face of Iowa and the other early states, and every electoral vote will matter this fall.

Republicans have it easier, with their winner take all decisiveness and their state's rights attitude toward rules. But the Democrats have backed themselves into a corner on this one. June caucuses in Florida and Michigan may finally be a way out of this mess that turns a lose-lose nightmare into a win-win. Everyone is represented, the rules and process are respected, and Michigan and Florida get what they wanted in the first place, a decisive say in the nomination -- but in the old-fashioned way, at the very end.

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