Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Florida and Michigan: The Elephant(s) in the Room

As Clinton's victories plunged the race for the Democratic nomination back into doubt yesterday, the Florida/Michigan question was brought up yet again. Ever since the two states held non-sanctioned primaries ahead of the February starting point for all states not named Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the idea of a do over contest has been floated as a possibility, albeit a far-fetched one. [FHQ should take this opportunity to remind its readers that this is an issue on the GOP side as well. Republican rules called for any state holding a contest awarding delegates before February 5 to lose half its delegation. And that includes New Hampshire, Wyoming and South Carolina. Iowa and Nevada were exempt because no delegates were at stake during the first rounds of their caucus processes.] The tension on the issue was ramped up further today as the governors from both Florida and Michigan (Republican governor Charlie Crist-FL and Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm-MI) issued a joint statement calling for their states' full slates of delegates to be seated at their respective conventions. This plea didn't fall on deaf ears at the DNC, where chairman, Howard Dean, was quick to issue a response. Essentially, his argument was that the states both held contests in violation of the national party rules and that they had until June 10 to submit and carry out a new delegate selection plan.

Round and round the merry-go-round goes. Let's break this situation down from the perspectives of each of the parties involved (The status quo takes this issue all the way to the convention and becomes another issue altogether, so our focus here will be on weighing the pros and cons of a do over caucus or primary for each group.):

1) The national parties:
(Pros)--With the hard line the DNC is taking, a revote is the best case scenario for them. Delegates are seated, voices are heard, rules are followed and you have a slate of convention delegates willing to participate in any rule making session involving the 2012 cycle. Oh and a convention fight is averted. Also, the candidates get to spend time in both states, building important organizations for the general election.
(Cons)--Does this solve the other problem facing the party--an near equal division of delegtates between the top two candidates vying for the nomination? No, probably not.

2) The state parties:
(Pros)--Delegates are seated, voices are heard.
(Cons)--$$$$. Where is the money to pay for an all new contest going to come from? The cost of the primary was a point of contention when the bill to move Michigan's primary was being debated in the state legislature there. I doubt with the economy heading south, that the legislature, the governor or their constituents will be willing to fork over the necessary cash to pull this thing off. That leaves the state party with the tab. They also have to swallow a bitter pill when having to basically cave to national party rules. [Of course they could continue the game of chicken and wait for the Rules and Bylaws committee to blink first before a floor fight breaks out at the convention. That falls in the "don't play with fire, Scarecrow" category though.] I'm not as clear on the economic situation in Florida, but the price tag for a do over would be considerable in a state of that size; big enough to scare off a GOP-controlled state legislature from acting. UPDATE: Now I have a better idea of the situation in Florida, thanks to The Caucus, via the Miami Herald. The state legislature won't be paying for a new contest there:
"Pointing to the state's grim economic outlook, state legislative leaders, all Republicans, ruled out paying for another primary. The Jan. 29 vote, which also included other statewide and local issues, cost about $18 million.

'There is no money this year,' said House Speaker Marco Rubio, the West Miami Republican who spearheaded the idea of moving up the primary date to increase the state's clout."

For the latest from Michigan, here's a story from the Detroit News (via The Caucus).

3) The candidates [This is a tough one because it differs from candidate to candidate.]:

(Pros)--For Obama, it means actually being on a ballot in Michigan. For Clinton it means getting a chance to actually beat Obama instead of the "artist formerly known as 'uncommitted'" in Michigan and to beat him again in Florida. Also, Obama likes caucuses. With Wyoming on Saturday set to be the last caucus before Puerto Rico in June, another series of caucuses would potentially be a welcome sign. For Clinton though, she'd have time to gear up for these contests in areas where she has some natural advantages (retirees in Florida and union members in Michigan).

(Cons)--For Clinton, if the contests are caucuses, it means going toe to toe with Obama in caucuses. But for Obama, it means that her campaign would have time to prepare. Also, as with the national party discussion, this doesn't necessarily solve the delegate division problem, which opens the door to the possibility of a convention battle.

What does all of this tell us then? Money and pride are standing in the way of all three parties coming together and hammering out a solution. That's not like politics at all. The state parties and Clinton know that they can take this as far as they want to knowing that the national party in no way wants this decision to go to the convention for fear of the ramifications in the general election. Of course that could cast Clinton in a selfish light; putting her personal good ahead of the good of the party. On the other hand, the national party and Obama (How's that for a team after Clinton appeared to be the establishment candidate before the contests started?) know that if Clinton prevailed in such a scenario, she could be at the head of a dysfunctional family known as the Democratic party; not an enviable position to be in for a general election. The compromise on this, if there is one, is going to prove somewhat elusive. As the Democratic party is apt to do, fairness will be included in this somehow. And that means making the sacrifices as near equal as possible for all parties concerned.

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