The Democrats Stumble to the Finish Line, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the first part of a two-part entry about the important decisions facing the Democrats with the final phase of the primary season. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Tony Romm*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Never quite the bastion of party unity, the Democrats seem poised this week to nail themselves in the foot. The Rules and Bylaws Committee, scheduled to meet this Saturday, May 31, must now determine the future of Michigan and Florida’s total 368 delegates less than three months before the Denver nominating convention.

Predictably, the media’s reportage elicits a level of political posturing almost equivalent to the election disarray that characterizes transitioning democracies, whereby polar opposites seek to recast party regulations and traditions in a favorable, subjective light. According to The Washington Post, Clinton supporters wasted no time this week mobilizing in protest of the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s “disenfranchisement” of Florida and Michigan voters. Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s traditional niche, always the vocal lot, has vowed equally and adamantly to oppose any breach of the rules — what it defines as any threat to the Illinois Senator’s presumptive nomination. In both circumstances, the Democratic contenders have showered the committee meeting with unprecedented hype, which certainly hasn’t facilitated an objective solution to the delegate dilemma.

At such a tenuous junction in the nomination fight, it is difficult to overlook the roads most discretely traveled. Although Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean made veritably clear in 2007 that impatient states would lose their delegates come Denver, it seems safe to posit that Dean also expected the nomination to have wrapped up before June 1. Stalling a solution — or, at least, a commitment to pursuing one — thus opened the possibility that either Sen. Clinton (D-NY) or Sen. Obama (D-IL) could accrue such a significant lead that Florida and Michigan wouldn’t matter outside of their inherent symbolic value. Indeed, this is to some degree the case today — by many measures, Clinton has no shot at the nomination — but insofar as the popular vote is concerned, the two states remain incredibly significant. Hence the importance of this weekend’s meeting.

Most troubling for Clinton: there is no solution that permits her to receive all of the delegates she obtained during the two questionable primaries. Florida and Michigan violated Democratic National Committee (DNC) rules and held their primaries ahead of schedule; thus, they were stripped of their delegates completely. And pursuant to the DNC charter, which DNC lawyers upheld in a memo released this week, only half of each state’s delegates can be seated in Denver, regardless of a compromise.

However, many of those “compromises” are hardly that at all. In fact, there currently exist only two sensible outcomes of the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s forthcoming delegate debate.

The first, obviously, is to heed Chairman Dean’s original proclamation and punish Michigan and Florida for their impatience. Of course, this verdict would draw the utmost ire from the Clinton campaign, which could challenge the decision at the next Credentials Committee meeting in August.

Assuming she did, her campaign’s fury would spell terrible news for the Democrats. Even if the Credentials Committee ruled in Clinton’s favor, the body’s decision is only a recommendation; its finality rests in the hands of the DNC at-large. And while both candidates would certainly renounce the impending floor fight, the absence of party cohesiveness would have a tremendous negative impact on whoever won the nomination, especially during a primary election cycle throughout which many voters have indicated they would rather choose John McCain than the Democratic opposition. That is, if they decide to even vote at all, after the Democrat they backed ends up off the ticket.

*Tony Romm is currently an intern at Slate.

(To read the final part of this post, please go here.)

(Political graphic © copyright Conservative Punk; this conservative blog allows use of its graphics with the appropriate credit.)

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