Democrats are talking about a “redo” of the Florida and Michigan primaries, as if they were reshooting a movie scene. We are told it’s not because a redo could give Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won both states when she said they didn’t count, an unfair advantage in her desperate search for delegates. It’s because Clinton says it’s not right to deny Florida and Michigan delegates a seat — and a vote — at the August convention in Denver.
I’m not sure exactly what they have in mind. Since Florida’s political reputation in recent years is that of a banana republic, I suppose Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will ask Jimmy Carter and U.N. observers to monitor the redo.
Will the redo be by primary, caucus or mail? Dean has made it clear the DNC has no intention of spending millions of its dollars on a redo because two states violated party rules. However, Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is mentioned as a possible running mate for John McCain, has taken a peculiar interest in giving state Democrats another vote. He reportedly is considering trying to come up with resources to help fund a redo by mail, which could cost at least $5 million by some estimates. Let him explain that to Floridians at a time when the state is on hard times, slashing funds for education and other programs.
Maybe Democrats should just ask the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the matter, the way it did in the Bush-Gore race in 2000.
If the key concern is really about being fair to Florida and Michigan Democrats, there is a simple solution proposed by my friend Samuel Tenanbaum, a major Democratic fund-raiser in South Carolina, that the Barack Obama campaign has indicated it could support.
Let’s call it the Solomon Solution: Seat the Florida and Michigan delegations at the convention and divide their votes equally between Clinton and Obama. That would be a fair deal for Clinton, who won 50 percent of the vote in Florida and 55 percent in Michigan, where Obama’s name was not even on the ballot. An even split would not change the delegate math in either candidate’s favor, but it would accomplish what all say they want — the seating of these two “rogue” delegations at the convention.
It may not be an ideal solution, but it’s better than any of the other ideas on the table. And, best of all, it wouldn’t cost a dime.
Don’t believe for a minute this is all about being fair to Florida and Michigan. It’s about Clinton getting her hands on these delegates to narrow the gap between her and Obama. The closer she comes to him in the delegate count, the easier it would be for her to round up enough superdelegates to tip the nomination her way.
Let’s remember how Democrats got into this mess in the first place.
The national party stripped both states of their delegates for moving up their primary dates, and the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state. All the major candidates except Clinton removed their names from the Michigan ballot. Clinton says she just forgot to take her name off.
Now that Clinton is losing the delegate race, she has become the champion of Florida and Michigan Democrats whose disenfranchisement she and the other candidates defended until recently. As usual, Clinton wants to have it both ways. She was for disenfranchising voters in Florida and Michigan before she was against it.
Clinton said last week that it is unfair to punish Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan just because their state legislatures moved up their primary elections in violation of national party rules. “They clearly believed their votes would count, and there has to be a way to make them count,” the former first lady said.
Why would they have believed any such thing? After all, Clinton and Obama repeatedly said Florida and Michigan votes should not and would not count toward the nomination. So did Dean and the DNC. Rules are rules, they all agreed. Now, however, the Clinton campaign is saying the rules be damned.
I don’t understand why Democrats are tearing themselves apart over this. Their nominating system so far is working the way it was designed to work. Where is it written that the nomination must be decided in early February? Or that the so-called superdelegates should be potted plants? After Mississippi’s primary on Tuesday, a half-dozen other states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, are set to vote between now and June 7.
Shouldn’t we wait and see how their votes shape the contest? Even the Clinton campaign admits that her share of the Florida and Michigan delegates would not be enough to give her the nomination. So it looks like whatever the Democrats do, or redo, the nomination is likely to be settled by the superdelegates, party big shots who are free to ignore the primary results, if they dare, and use their own judgment in selecting a nominee.
One thing is clear: This story is not likely to have a happy ending. Regardless of which candidate becomes the nominee, there are going to be a lot of bitter Democrats. The aftermath could be ugly and divisive. Even so, no one can say the system didn’t work. If Democrats don’t like the system, they should redo it for the 2012 election.
(Philip Gailey is editor of editorials for the St. Petersburg Times. E-mail gailey(at)sptimes.com.)