Although Pennsylvania’s “decisive” primary decided absolutely nothing, Democratic Party leaders should learn a few things from the past seven weeks. Senator Hillary Clinton is not backing down and is finally willing to fight for the nomination. Barack Obama can outspend his opponents 3-to-1 and still not shift enough voters to win an election. And, most importantly, if Clinton can win in Indiana and Puerto Rico, the party’s leaders will face a tough decision in August not between two candidates but about the future direction of the Democratic Party.
Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton can win their party’s nomination on pledged delegates alone. The decision will come down to two groups of party leaders – the infamous super-delegates and the much-less scrutinized Democratic Party Credentials Committee, which will decide whether to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan.
Led by Alexis Herman, James Roosevelt, Jr. and Eliseo Roques-Arroyo, the Committee is made up of three representatives from each state’s slate of delegates, and they will end up deciding whether Florida and Michigan’s delegates and each state’s superdelegates will get a vote in Denver. Whether or not Florida and Michigan count could well be the deciding factor between whether Clinton or Obama has a lead in pledged delegates, the popular “vote”, or in both.
Obama supporters have their talking points at the ready for this fight: their candidate is a once-in-a-generation leader who has brought new voters into the Democratic Primary. Turn them away with what might be seen as backroom manipulation of the “popular” vote – a decision to count Michigan and Florida after all – and they may never come back.
For any political operative, that is a seductive logic: rather than dividing the existing political pie between Democrats and Republicans, make it larger by bringing in new voters. But it’s doesn’t really hold up.
Here in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought new voters into the California electoral process when he ran for Governor in 2003 and again in 2006 when he ran for re-election. The Republican governor carried 57 of 80 Assembly Districts in 2006. 22 of these were seats held by Democrats. Since 2002, Republicans have not picked up any state Legislative seats in California; as far as California Republican candidates are concerned, Schwarzenegger has no coattails.
The Democratic Party’s last once-in-a-generation transformational leader, John F. Kennedy, remains a great inspiration to his party and to this nation. But how well have Democrats done since the Kennedy Administration?
Conversely, the risk to the Democratic Party of not seating the Florida and Michigan delegations is much greater. For starters, both Florida and Michigan are swing states, which if either is lost, could swing the Electoral College to Republicans.
More important is who actually voted in the Florida and Michigan primaries: people who took the time to go to the polls and cast a ballot they weren’t even sure would count. Those are a die-hard voters.
In grassroots politics, these folks would be called “fours” or “fives” – meaning that they had voted in four or five of the last elections. As opposed to the “zeros” or “ones” who joined the Democratic Party primary process only to cast a ballot for Barack Obama, you can bet your money that these “fours” and “fives” will be casting votes regardless of who is on the ballot.
To deny the votes of the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters in two critical swing states is a risky gambit. To deny their voice solely to appease “Obama voters” who have shown no previous support for the Party, nor evidence that they would were his name not on the ballot, is a sucker’s bet – one that even as a Republican, I could not in good conscience recommend they make.
Editor’s Note: Scott Olin Schmidt holds a significant financial interest in a corporation which is advising an independent expenditure committee on marketing of pro-Clinton websites. But that still doesn’t mean he’ll vote for her.