Contravening conventional wisdom once again, I take issue with this Associated Press report coming out of the Florida primary:
“Hillary Rodham Clinton finished Tuesday’s Florida Democratic primary with more votes than any other Democrat, but the event drew no campaigning by any of her presidential rivals and awarded no delegates to the winner.”
It’s not that the story is wrong. The AP has a storied history of getting the facts right. It’s that all mainstream media outlets are assuming Democratic delegates elected in Florida and Michigan will not be seated, per a fiery edict from the Democratic National Committee. In fact, that decision is set in peanut butter rather than in concrete and may not be finalized until the party convention in late August.
As we all know by now, Michigan and Florida incurred the wrath of the national party by moving their primary dates ahead of Super (now Super-Duper) Tuesday, which is Feb. 5. Defying the party by cutting ahead in line is a definite no-no. The party was trying to prevent a deluge of early primaries, thereby nullifying the power of delegate-rich states such as California, New York, Illinois, Arizona and Texas whose primaries are Feb. 5 or later.
The party also wanted to force candidates to campaign in some small states, where retail politicking (meeting with actual voters) versus tarmac stops is de rigueur. That’s why South Carolina was allowed to move up its primary date in 2004 and why Nevada held its caucuses in January this year for the first time.
Republicans, too, spanked their unruly state parties. But in the case of Florida, the Republican National Committee agreed to seat half the state’s delegates to the national convention — a reasonable compromise under the circumstances and seemingly more reasonable to the public than the DNC’s “off with their heads” approach.
Disenfranchising Florida’s delegates is touchy stuff, given what the Bush campaign of 2000 did to Florida voters. Al Gore ultimately won the popular vote in that state. But the Bush machinery bypassed a recount and won the presidency in the Supreme Court. One would think the Democratic Party would want to super-enfranchise rather than disenfranchise this group.
A source on the DNC credentials committee told me that party Chairman Howard Dean will attempt to broker the issue of Florida and Michigan delegates well before the convention this summer. But he has quietly been appointing credentials committee members whose loyalties are to the national party, not state parties. A fight over seating Michigan and Florida delegates could go right up to the credentials committee meeting just before the convention or to the floor of the convention itself.
There is one other solution. Although it is unlikely to be resolved this way, both Florida and Michigan could still hold legal (by party standards) caucuses to elect delegates. Those delegates would be seated and the brouhaha would become a flameout.
The magic number is 2,025 — the winning nominee must get the support of that many delegates from among 4,049 attending the party convention. If the Clinton campaign can get the Florida delegates reinstated, then she could claim the majority of their number: 210.
Yes, more than 1,600 delegates are at stake next week on Super-Duper Tuesday. But the way this contest is playing out, Florida’s 210 could easily be the deciding factor for the nomination. A fight over their validity on the convention floor would make this the first convention since 1972 where real news is made. That year, George McGovern lead a floor fight over seating the South Carolina delegation. If the Michigan/Florida question is resolved before then, this summer in Denver we’ll witness yet another coronation ceremony, similar to the ones we’ve dragged ourselves through these last few decades.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)