As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hey Kids, Let's Put On A Caucus

It looks increasingly that Michigan will be re-voting in a caucus process.

A member of the DNC's Rules And Bylaws Committee--the committee that stripped Florida and Michigan of its delegates for moving their primaries before February 5th--told me that Michigan plans to get out of its uncounted delegate problem by announcing a new caucus in the next few days.

"They want to play. They know how to do caucuses," the DNC source said. "That was their plan all along, before they got cute with the primary."

This is a good thing. Dean made this happen, by the way, by basically saying "either a new vote or nothing," which makes it pretty hard for Clinton to object. Sure, this is a caucus, but may be a CINO (caucus in name only). There are a lot of meanings of the word "caucus." In Maine it includes absentee balloting, for example. "Caucus" essentially means that the party pays for it instead of the state, and in cash-strapped Michigan that's the only way it's going to happen.

I want an organizing opportunity for Democrats in Michigan. I think it'll be crucial as we head into the fall.

As for Florida, it's a different situation. Both candidates were on the ballot, 1.7 million came out to vote, everything was basically equal, the Republicans drove the process of moving up the election, and they're not going to pay the $25 million to hold a new one (sure, Clinton and Obama can hold a bake sale to raise the money, but who's going to run the election?). Marc Schmitt has a very interesting idea.

Here's the answer, and it's a little off the wall: He should offer a major concession. Agree to seat the Florida delegates from the January primary, along with a do-over caucus in Michigan. Don't concede the full legitimacy of the Florida primary, but just acknowledge that all the candidates were on the ballot and the expense and political cost of a do-over is too high. Seating the Florida delegation would be conditional on a do-over caucus in Michigan.

That immediately concedes to Clinton a gain of somewhere between 29 and 40 delegates. (She won 113 delegates in the disputed primary, Obama 71, and Edwards 13.) So instead of being 154 delegates in the hole, she would be behind by 112-125, and after Mississippi and Wyoming, it's likely to be more.

It's hard to see the logic by which Clinton could turn that offer down. There's clearly a marked difference in legitimacy between a Soviet-style primary with only one candidate on the ballot (Michigan) and one in which the candidates simply agreed not to campaign and name-recognition prevailed. And conceding a primary in a large state that Clinton won 50-33 seems -- is -- quite magnanimous. How would Clinton insist on a do-over in both states, or in seating Michigan as well?

But it's also devastating to Clinton: It denies her the opportunity and momentum of a second victory in Florida and the claim that she won both big swing states legitimately, one of them twice. It forces her to defend a caucus (which she never wins, even if it's more like a primary) in a state that's probably a little closer to Wisconsin in temperament than it is to Ohio, as well as more heavily African-American.

Most of all, it makes the math finite. It's the equivalent of saying, "We'll spot you 40 delegates -- now quit spinning and do the math." The math then is not impossible, but it would still require huge wins in Pennsylvania, Oregon, and in that Michigan caucus. Her biggest advantage right now is the ambiguity that allows her to spin all sorts of unlikely scenarios as "paths to the nomination."

That'd be a hell of a ballsy move by Obama. But we need some legitimacy in this process. Letting every state have a say, literally every one, except one of the biggest is untenable. This is an excellent compromise idea. It tightens up the math without favoring one candidate over the other, actually. Obama gets benefits and still has the chance for a knockout blow in PA or MI, while Clinton gets a 40-delegate boost and gives her a real opportunity to catch up in her own right.

Stay tuned...

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