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Thursday, May 22, 2008

What to do with Michigan and Florida

George Wenschhof

I wrote in mid January the move by the Democratic National Committee to strip the delegates from Michigan and Florida could have dire consequences. This was done as a punitive action for moving their primaries earlier in the schedule to an unsanctioned date. Unfortunately, I was right. Punitive action that resulted in the disenfranchisement of Democratic voters who had nothing to do with the scheduling of the date of their primary election, simply made no sense.

As chair of the DNC, Howard Dean had years to work out the primary schedule and failed to do so. Many states, and rightfully so, objected to the first in the nation status given the Iowa caucuses and the first primary status given to New Hampshire. They are the only two states traditionally allowed to hold Democratic primaries in January.

Over the years, as campaign strategy changed, it became important, if not clear, that wins in these two early states could propel a candidate to the democratic party nomination. It was Jimmy Carter, who emerged as the winner in the 1976 Democratic primary and went on to become President, that set this modern day trend. Carter rose from somewhat obscurity as Governor of Georgia and won Iowa. He used the national recognition he achieved from winning this contest to distance himself from the other Democratic candidates.

Since 1976, the democratic nomination process has resulted in a nominee way before the end of scheduled state primaries, leaving many states effectively out of the nomination process. This has obviously led to many states becoming frustrated with the primary schedule and questioning why Iowa should have so much influence on who the Democratic Party candidate for President will be.

After considerable haggling and negotiation with various state officials and the DNC, two additional states, Nevada and S.Carolina were allowed to hold their primaries in the sacred month of January for this election year. The reported reasoning was to add a state from the West, (Nevada) and one from the South, (S. Carolina). Of course, other state officials immediately noticed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the representative of Nevada. Others, would rationalize that Democrats needed to do better in the South and among African-American voters so adding S. Carolina to January made sense.

So after several years of negotiation, the best Howard Dean and the DNC could achieve is status quo with Iowa and New Hampshire and adding just two states to the schedule in January. The earliest date following the month of January sanctioned by the DNC became February 5th and not so surprisingly, close to 25 states scheduled primaries on that day. This led some pundits to say why not just hold a single national Democratic primary election day? Others say why not just hold five primaries every two weeks from January to May which would spread out and stagger more fairly the primaries across the country. Obviously many ideas exist but this nonetheless shows clearly the failure of the DNC to effectively schedule a primary calendar.

Now the credentials committee of the DNC will meet on May 31 to conduct hearings on the seating of the 366 delegates from Michigan (156) and Florida (210). The Clinton campaign realizes that a extremely favorable ruling is the only hope they have at securing the nomination and at this point, it is a long shot. The Obama campaign has signaled they are willing to compromise for they realize the delegate math is in their favor. Seating some of the delegates from these states will be accommodated and Clinton will be able to point to her advocacy on behalf of these states, while Obama will win the party nomination. While the outcome of this meeting should finalize this issue, the Florida and Michigan fiasco will forever be a footnote in this Democratic party Presidential candidate primary election.

The only other possible solution to the awarding of delegates from these two states is to conduct a re-vote. Although this option was considered dead after earlier negotiations failed, both states have state elections coming up in August. Michigan (Aug.5) and Florida (Aug.26) could still add the names of Obama and Clinton to their Ballots and the cost of these elections would be minimal for they are already scheduled. CNN had a article about this earlier this month where they pointed out the Democratic National Convention is August 25-28 in Denver so this could work but the Florida results would not be known until the second day of the convention.

Don't look to see a re-vote happen. All the democratic candidates knew the rules when they filed and agreed to the sanctions given to Florida and Michigan by the DNC. The candidates did not campaign in these states and Obama was not even on the Ballot in Michigan.

It is clear the DNC and Democratic party representatives from all the states need to meet following this election to develop a primary schedule that makes sense in the twenty-first century. While they are at it, they also need to revise the convoluted and confusing method of awarding delegates (including superdelegates) to the candidates.

In spite of these shortcomings, this Democratic party primary election has been one of the most exciting and engaging ever in history. It is certain that either a Woman or an African-American will be the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

Regardless of what some may say, Democrats will unite and rally around their nominee to ensure there is not a continuation of the failed policies of the President George W. Bush administration.

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