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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Do-Over” Kabuki

Yesterday I suggested that there was growing and probably irresistable momentum towards a “do-over” of the Michigan and Florida Democratic presidential primaries whose results are not, under present rules, being rewarded with actual pledged delegates (MI and FL’s superdelegates, BTW, aren’t being offered seats, or even hotel rooms, at the Convention either).
That’s still true, but the events of the last 24 hours have shown that arranging a “do-over” is pretty complicated. Yesterday MI and FL Democratic leaders issued a manifesto demanding that their delegates be seated. DNC Chairman Howard Dean quickly responded that it ain’t happening, and that Democrats in the two states needed to come up with a “do-over” plan to pick recognizable delegates. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fl) fired off an open letter to Dean saying that the national party needed to pay the substantial (as much as $20 million in FL alone) costs of any “do-over” primary. Dean responded that it wasn’t his problem. And today, reports emerged that MI Democrats are considering a caucus to elect delegates.
A lot of this is pure Kabuki Theater designed to establish the high moral ground on this controversy. MI and FL Democrats want the national party to acknowledge their primaries were legitimate expressions of popular opinion. The DNC wants MI and FL to acknowledge they broke the rules, and agree to a do-over of their own initiative, without massive DNC subsidies. And the Clinton and Obama campaigns obviously have a big stake in the outcome, and will probably have to agree to any proposed resolution.
A caucus in MI makes a lot of sense; the party’s done them before, and would probably hold so-called “firehouse caucuses ” that are basically closed primaries with very limited numbers of polling places. Florida’s a tougher place to hold caucuses, since they don’t have any experience with them, and participation might be down sharply from the earlier primary.
More importantly, the candidates have variable interests in the structure of any do-overs. Obama has done famously well in caucuses. And aside from the impact of caucus do-overs on the delegate count, lower participation would almost certainly reduce the impact of both states on the total popular vote for the overall nominating process, in which HRC is, by some assessments, getting close if the FL results are included, and could actually be ahead if the more tainted (because Obama was not on the ballot) MI results are included.
The most likely compromise would be for MI to hold caucuses, and FL a primary, with some but not total DNC and/or candidate subsidies. Aside from the equitable argument that the two states should pay some price for their scofflaw behavior, the reality is that both would benefit from massive candidate spending, and would, assuming their contests are scheduled for May or even June, play the kind of crucial role in determining the nomination that far exceeds what they hoped to accomplish by breaking the rules in the first place.
But that’s all easier said than done, and given the complex number of players in this decision, and their Kabuki Theater positions, this will ultimately be a big test of Howard Dean’s leadership abilities.

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