Saturday, September 01, 2007

Democratic candidates stick with DNC plan on primaries.

What happens when the immovable object meets the irresistable force?

I don't know, but get ready for what could be a bumpy ride.

In the headlong rush to crowd into the front of the Presidential primary field, (in which nearly half the nation may follow the designated 'starters' of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and vote on the first party sanctioned date of February 5-- unofficially dubbed 'super-duper Tuesday'), several states are now jumping the gun. Florida, Michigan and Wyoming either have moved or plan to move their nominating primaries or caucuses into January, upstaging the four states which are now sanctioned by both parties as the first caucus, the first in the west, the first primary and the first in the south. The DNC has responded by saying they will refuse to seat delegates from states which jump the gun at the national convention.

In yesterday's Washington Post, Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 Presidential campaign and who now serves on the DNC's bylaws committee, lucidly spells out the party's reasoning that we must follow the rules at this point.

And it seems that in the struggle between the party and the states, the party is winning and the Presidential campaigns are getting the point, as the top six Democrats have now agreed to not participate in any states which jump the gun. I doubt if there will be much media attention on a race for a bunch of delegates which won't be seated at the convention and which is slugged out to the finish between Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.

There are to be sure both some benefits and risks that go with standing firm on the primary start date.

The biggest risk of course is the possibility of alienating voters and party activists in the states which are being punished in this way. In Florida, in particular, the issue of voter disenfranchisement among Democrats still rubs an especially raw wound. Florida has 27 electoral votes which in each of the last two elections provided the margin by which George W. Bush was elected to the White House. And in Florida, Democrats can point out that the bill which was pushed through the legislature and signed by Governor Charlie Crist was pushed by Republicans (though only one Democrat in the legislature actually voted against it.) In Michigan, which gave 17 electoral votes to Democrats in each of the last two elections, they don't even have that excuse; it was Democrats in the legislature and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm which are pushing for an early primary. Certainly Florida and Michigan are important, large states and there is a risk of alienating voters in a key state which may cost us the November election. Wyoming is also talking about moving its primary to January 5, but the chance of a Democratic Presidential candidate being competitive there (unless perhaps Dave Freudenthal is on the ticket) is about as remote as the chance that when Dick Cheney leaves the White House he will retire to and actually live in the vacation home in Jackson Hole he bought while he was living in Texas in order to duck the requirement that the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates not be from the same state.

Right-leaning talk show hosts are already blasting the DNC for making this decision and 'dictating' to the states, although they seem to forget that pretty soon the RNC will have to make a similar decision (though with the enthusiasm that GOP candidates are already ginning up in states like Florida and Michigan it may be much harder to make them comply if the decision is to hold the line-- and nothing could make the RNC look weaker than to make a decision like this and have the candidates ignore it, especially with Democratic candidates falling in line with the DNC-- which is why I predict the RNC won't hold the line with the states.)

Another risk (though a minor one) is that Republicans competing in Florida and Michigan will steal all the headlines for a few days. I doubt if that will mean much in the overall scheme of things though.

The rewards are less tangible though clear enough. The biggest one is order. The primary system, already twisted and warped to the point that nominees will be chosen in a window of less than a month and have to then wait most of a year for the general election, was in danger of spiraling completely out of control. Standing firm was a choice the party had to make, and fortunately had the guts to make.

A second reward is that if the GOP doesn't similarly stand firm and the Republican primaries degenerate into a contest between states instead of between candidates, Democrats look like a stronger party with stronger leadership. I don't know whether that will translate into a lot of votes in November though since most swing voters choose between candidates, much more than between parties.

A third reward if the Democrats stand firm and the Republicans don't is that then while Democrats could take their lumps in Florida and Michigan, it's worth noting that Iowa (where the first caucus is almost as revered a tradition as Hawkeye football and voters consider they have a 'right' to it), New Hampshire (where the first primary is similarly revered) and Nevada have a total of 16 electoral votes that will be in play for both parties in November. South Carolina has eight, but if it goes Democratic in November then the election is already in the bag.

Either way, this decision by the DNC to stand firm against the states is dicey. But it is right, it is principled, and I'm glad they are doing it.

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