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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dealing From the Bottom of the Deck

Obama and Clinton tie for delegates in Florida. 0 for Obama, 0 for Clinton.
--Email sent by the Obama campaign to news organizations yesterday

I picked that quote up from Chris Cillizza's Washington Post blog, The Fix, published last night. In that post, Cillizza wondered what this means for Clinton.

Of course, the networks have declared Clinton the winner, and she is scheduled to make a stop in the state shortly to thank her supporters.

So, does her win mean anything? Will it give her a boost -- even a slight one -- heading into Feb. 5?

You could really give one of two answers, but the truth is probably a combination of both. Florida had been stripped of its delegates as a punishment for pushing their primary up before Super Tuesday, so in that sense, Hillary's win is meaningless.

But Camp Clinton really needs a win. She hasn't definitively won a real contest yet. New Hampshire was a tie and Nevada was actually a loss -- at least, in terms of delegates. In terms of morale building and keeping donors on board, she can claim the win and break it down as a real world test in the broadly diverse state of Florida. Hell, that's what I'd do.

On the other hand, candidates were barred from campaigning there. Which means no ads, no personal appearances, no making their cases to the people of the Sunshine State. The results in Florida can also be spun as a leftover from Hillary's high poll numbers prior to the real world tests of the other primaries and caucuses. Florida can easily be seen as being frozen in time.

Actually, there's a third, darker answer. One that's making dem insiders very unhappy and one that suggests that a desperate Hillary Clinton is willing to compete on an unlevel playing field. That she wants to change the rules in the middle of the game and change the otherwise meaningless "beauty contests" of Michigan and Florida into delegate-earning wins.

Clinton flew in to celebrate the results and, after the obligatory thanks to voters, got right down to it. [emphasis mine]:

I could not come here to ask in person for your votes, but I am here to thank you for your votes today. This has been a record turnout because Floridians wanted their voices to be heard on the great issues that affect our country and the world. I am thrilled to have had this vote of confidence that you have given me today, and I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida's Democratic delegates seated, but Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in 2008.

That's right, she wants to take a moral victory and turn it into an actual victory.

Look, I think Florida and Michigan are getting a raw deal, too. Both states have proven more important to Democrats than any of the previous primary states. It may be time to look at assigning primary dates based on which states were the most contested in the last elections -- purple states first, red and blue states last. This way, the contested states would have more say in the final nominee than states that aren't as likely to be competitive. But that's another post and that's not the case now.

The case now is that all the candidates signed a pledge not to compete in these states. For Hillary to take advantage of that to try to get these delegates seated at the convention is grossly unfair. John Nichols writes in The Capital Times, "Hillary Clinton has decided to rewrite the rules of the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination."

Like other candidates, she pledged not to campaign in Florida after the state jumped ahead on the schedule of caucuses and primaries set by the Democratic National Committee. She had to make that pledge if she hoped to compete in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, as Iowa and New Hampshire zealously guard their starting status on the political calendar.

But Iowa and New Hampshire are history, and after a landslide loss in South Carolina on Saturday, Clinton needs a win.

Add to this that the Kennedy clan has come out for Obama -- practically saying he's JFK reincarnated -- and Clinton is in a tight spot. And this tight spot has caused her to turn to what can only be described as political bottom-feeding. In another Nichols' piece for The Nation, we're told an instructive story about the Michigan primary:

A remarkable 40 percent of Michiganders who participated in the primary voted for nobody, marking the "Uncommitted" option on their ballots. Another 4 percent backed Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who brought his anti-war, anti-corporate campaign to Michigan and made some inroads among Muslim voters in the Detroit area and liberals in Washtenaw County -- where he was taking almost 10 percent.

Clinton was the only leading candidate on the Michigan ballot and she only pulled 55% of the vote -- a fairly close second went to "uncommitted." There's no way, with that massive advantage she had, that you could say the final tally was representative of Michigander sentiments. Yet Clinton wants Michigan delegates seated as well.

Clinton claims that she's speaking up for these disenfranchised primary voters. But here's an interesting thought experiment; do you really believe that Hillary would be pushing to have them seated at the convention if she didn't actually win those primaries? Answer that honestly and I'm pretty sure your answer will be "no." Clinton's concern is less about these disenfranchised voters and more about Hillary Clinton. This strikes me as a little more than short-sighted. If Hillary gets the nom, her win will leave a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouths. Nichols' TCT piece is as almost-angry as I've ever seen the normally level-headed midwesterner write (it's titled "Clinton embraces Florida, insults Wisconsin").'s really nothing more than the latest political gambit from a Clinton campaign that is developing a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules. If she wins big in the Sunshine State and then succeeds in qualifying delegations from Michigan and Florida for the convention, the senator will get the bulk of the close to 350 delegates from the two states. That's more than what Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina combined will send to the convention.

No wonder Hillary Clinton is laughing all the way to the Florida primary.

This is using the other candidates' honesty against them. These people agreed to abide by the pledge -- they may not have liked it, but Edwards and Obama gave their word.

And so did Hillary Clinton. Edwards is out now, but Obama is still in -- and is the candidate with a full head of steam, at this point. Hillary justifies her embrace of Florida voters by twisting the facts to make it seem as if Obama had broken his promise and campaigned in Florida. Her website reads, "This result comes after Senator Obama ran TV commercials that reached Florida homes and after the enormous publicity he received for South Carolina and for the Ted Kennedy endorsement."

They may have "reached Florida homes," but they were broadcast in SC for S. Carolinians. They would've reached very few Floridian homes and Clinton's ads would've done the same -- neither can be blamed for not controlling the way the electromagnetic spectrum works in the universe. Blame that on the Intelligent Designer the flatearthers believe in.

As I say, this sort of thing is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouths. And a lot of those people are backing Obama. If she wins the nomination, they'll likely vote for her, but won't be shy about opposing the causes of President H. Clinton. She'll start off with an unfriendly relationship with the voters she'll later need to lobby for her. That seems like a really bad idea, resulting in what could be a Pyrrhic victory.

In the battle for the White House, we should be careful that we don't lose the war. A Democratic president who doesn't have the trust of Democrats could find herself viewed as an impediment, not an asset. People who vote for the lesser of two evils aren't likely to forget that they chose an evil.


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