Friday, March 07, 2008

Do-Overs Down To Money?

Do-Overs May Come Down To Money

There's no do-overs in life, my ex-girlfriend once told me. But that was a long time before the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, where Florida and Michigan's flouting of the nomination calendar has become inseparably intertwined with the tight nomination fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The dispute has moved to the front burner as the party faces a relative lull in the nomination calendar. True, there's a Saturday caucus in Wyoming and a Mississippi primary Tuesday, but Obama is expected to win those two small states. The real question is six weeks of trench warfare between Clinton and Obama in Pennsylvania, while John McCain works on party unity.

Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean's public stance remains firm toward the two states that have lost their delegates for violating the party's nomination calendar rules. "First, either state can choose to resubmit a plan and run a party process to select delegates to the convention," Dean wrote in a Wednesday letter. "Second, they can wait until this summer and appeal to the Convention Credentials Committee, which determines and resolves any outstanding questions about the seating of delegates." No one seems to want the latter option, which would push the Florida-Michigan fight, and the determination of the nominee, to the brink of the national convention.

The early states, too, are standing firm in their resolve to fairness and the rules. "If Michigan and Florida and the Clinton supporters in those states, if they continue to push to have their delegates (from the early primaries) seated, it will create an uproar in the Democratic Party around the country," Sen. Tom Harkin told Iowa Independent and other media on a conference call Thursday.

So the consensus for a do-over is emerging, but questions remain about who's going to pay.

Marc Arbinder of the Atlantic reports that there was a direct conversation between DNC chair Howard Dean and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Thursday night.

"The Democrats in Florida want their votes counted under the principle of one person, one vote. And we're a little sensitive about our votes not being counted," Nelson told MSNBC earlier Thursday. "And so, if the only way to do that is to do it over, then I would support that." The statement was seen as an an important step toward support of the re-vote concept by the Clinton Campaign. Nelson, like most party leaders in both Florida and Michigan, is a Clinton supporter, and he'd previously sued the DNC over the exclusion of Florida's delegates.

"I have written to Howard Dean today to say, if you're not going to seat the Florida delegation, then pay for another election, and let's get the party unified, and let's get Florida and Michigan seated," Nelson also said. But according to Arbinder, Dean instead encouraged Florida Democrats to take soft money donations to pay for the do-over.

The Politico's Ben Smith estimates the cost of a vote-by-mail primary at about $5 million. Perhaps stirring the pot in the other party, Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist has offered state taxpayer money to pay for the re-vote.

Up in Michigan, meanwhile, consensus seems to be moving toward a caucus rather than a primary. "They want to play. They know how to do caucuses," a DNC rules committee source told the New Republic. "That was their plan all along, before they got cute with the primary."

Money is an issue here, too. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Clinton supporter, told the Traverse City Business News her first choice would seating the delegates from the Jan.15 primary, which Clinton won handily over "uncommitted." But Granholm acknowledged that Barack Obama's absence from the the ballot creates a fairness issue.

"It could not be a primary because a primary is publicly paid for, and the taxpayers would not spend any more tax dollars on a primary," Granholm said. "So if there's anything it would have to be a caucus, but we'd have to have a way to pay for it without taxpayer dollars."

Michigan has held events called "caucuses" in the past, but those events have been very different than Iowa's town-meeting style events. The nickname is "firehouse caucus" and they've been day-long events where people show up whenever and cast a secret ballot, making the caucus more like a party-run election. The most prominent Michigan caucus was Jesse Jackson Sr.'s March 1988 win, the high water mark of his second campaign.

In a move that may be completely unrelated, Puerto Rico Democrats canceled a June 7 caucus, which was supposed to be the last contest on the calendar, in favor of a June 1 primary. This makes June 3 primaries in Montana and South Dakota the new last contest -- until and unless Florida and Michigan reschedule.

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