Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clock Running Out On Michigan Do-Over

Clock Running Out On Michigan Do-Over

The votes aren't there yet for a do-over in Michigan, say state senate leaders. Combined with legislative recesses and legal deadlines, that means Code Blue for a re-vote. Paging Dr. Dean, stat.

The proposed legislation set a June 3 date and would have approved spending privately raised funds for the election, but "the votes aren't there to do it," said state senator Buzz Thomas, who's also a co-chair for Barack Obama in Michigan. Senator Gretchen Whitmer, who backs Hillary Clinton, concurred, saying the do-over was "on life support" and in need of CPR. Ben Smith at The Politico says only two of 17 Democratic senators would commit to the do-over. That's with two-thirds support needed to fast-track the legislation.

The state House goes on recess for two weeks beginning Friday, and by the time the state Senate ends its recess on April 14, they will have missed deadlines. State law requires 60 days advance notice of an election, and DNC rules require that the primary be held before June 10. Of course, DNC rules also required Michigan to vote no earlier than Feb. 5, but they voted on Jan. 15 anyway. The DNC rules committee responded by taking away all Michigan's delegates.

Team Clinton is pointing fingers, saying that Obama's supporters are dragging the process out and blocking a do-over that would probably help Clinton close the gap between herself and Obama. “There’s only one hold up. That is Sen. Obama," said Clinton advisor Harold Ickes. "Period. End of story,” he added, channeling Tony Soprano.

But one of Clinton's top supporters disputes the math. "I think if we had a vote in Michigan, it could easily be close," former Gov. Blanchard told Talking Points Memo. "The amount of delegates wouldn't make much difference."

Clinton herself is stirring the pot, with a campaign stop in Detroit Wednesday morning.

Florida solutions may still be possible; the latest on the table is Sen. Bill Nelson's plan to seat the delegation elected Jan. 29 with half a vote each, which is both parallel to the Republican penalty for too-early states and within DNC rules.

But Michigan is more problematic than Florida because Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. Michigan voters had a choice of Clinton, an already withdrawn Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel (who, even though he's already endorsed a Green candidate, is technically still in the Democratic race) and an uncommitted line, with no write-ins. Clinton beat uncommitted, 55 percent to 40 percent.

Another problem with a Michigan do-over was heavy crossover voting, much of it tactical, in the concurrent Jan. 15 Republican primary. Top blogger Kos made the argument and on Jan. 10 summarized the case:
Michigan Democrats should vote for Mitt Romney, because if Mitt wins, Democrats win. How so?

For Michigan Democrats, the Democratic primary is meaningless since the DNC stripped the state of all its delegates (at least temporarily) for violating party rules. Hillary Clinton is alone on the ballot.

But on the GOP side, this primary will be fiercely contested. John McCain is currently enjoying the afterglow of media love since his New Hampshire victory, while Iowa winner Mike Huckabee is poised to do well in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney, who’s suffered back-to-back losses in the last week, desperately needs to win Michigan in order to keep his campaign afloat. Bottom line, if Romney loses Michigan, he's out. If he wins, he stays in.

And we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan.

That worked to some extent, as Romney won. But here's the problem: DNC rules explicitly say, "No person shall participate or vote in the nominating process for a Democratic presidential candidate who also participates in the nominating process of any other party for the corresponding elections." That means anyone who crossed over -- disproportionately Obama supporters, since Clinton's people could actually vote for their candidate -- would not be able to vote in the do-over.

"I regret that that might be the case, but it's a national party rule and we have no choice but to follow it," said Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer.

"There are valid concerns about the proposal currently being discussed, including severe restrictions on voter eligibility and the reliance on private funding," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. "Local election officials have indicated that they may be unable to discharge their responsibilities under the timetable this law sets."

As for long-time Iowa hater Kos, he wrote Tuesday his goal has largely been accomplished:
To me, this was never about Obama or Clinton. It was about breaking the stranglehold that Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed at the top of the nominating calendar for far too long.

In short, if the DNC cannot enforce its rules and its calendar, then there's no way in hell we'll ever keep Iowa and New Hampshire in check. No matter what calendar the DNC created, Iowa and New Hampshire would move up their contests. And candidates, fearful that the states would ultimately be counted, would be forced to campaign in those states.

So the message had to be sent, no matter how unpopular, that the DNC calendar was sacrosanct, and that its rules would be enforced. That message has now been sent.

Florida and Michigan played a valued role in this battle, proving they would risk their representation in order to demand a say in our nominee. It was a gamble that didn't pay off, obviously, and there's great irony in the fact that a later primary would've made them that much more influential this cycle.

But the original sentiment still applies -- they risked huge in order to demand a say, and that sentiment will guide big changes in our nominating calendar in the future.

There's wide acceptance that this system is broken, that the Iowa/New Hampshire monopoly can no longer stand, that the caucus system is profoundly lacking, that the delegate apportioning system leaves a lot to be desired, and (at least in the party's rank and file) that the super delegate system is less than ideal. Each one of the challenges we've faced this year in our path to the nomination has given us much-needed impetus for future reform.

But Carrie Giddins, who was the Iowa Democratic Party's communications director during the caucuses, launched a pro-Iowa counter-attack in the New York Times. "Party leaders in Florida and Michigan knew exactly what was going to happen when they decided not to follow the calendar rules," she wrote. "They have no cause to be angry at the early states that protected their status with the pledge." Giddins called for splitting the Michigan and Florida delegates 50-50 between Clinton and Obama and said, "Do-overs are what children do on a playground."

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