Monday, May 5, 2008

The Rules and Bylaws Committee vs. The Credentials Committee

Let's assume for a moment that Clinton and Obama split Indiana and North Carolina, respectively, tomorrow. That outcome is the status quo outcome in the race for the Democratic nomination. Obama is "supposed" to win North Carolina, and the way polls are trending in Indiana, Clinton is "supposed" to win there. We've argued in campaign discussion group here at UGA that this race will continue until one candidate wins somewhere where they aren't "supposed" to win. If the above scenario plays out tomorrow (and remember few things have gone as expected during the 2008 cycle, though predicting the outcomes has become easier as certain demographic groups have line up behind each of the candidates), then that's two fewer contests that can decide the outcome; leaving only six contests (WV, KY, OR, PR, SD and MT) between Wednesday and the end of the primary phase of the election year 2008. And what that means is that the two most-often mentioned contests of this cycle will once again be thrust back into the spotlight.

What will the Democrats do with Florida and Michigan and their delegates? That is the question. If neither Clinton nor Obama wins one on their rival's turf, then the DNC's decision on Florida and Michigan's delegates becomes crucial to deciding the margins in both the delegate and popular vote counts. And that decision comes down to something of a battle between the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the Credentials Committee.

Who are the members of these committees and who/what do they support? As of now, the Rules and Bylaws Committee has jurisdiction over this issue. The folks on that committee appear to favor Clinton over Obama (in terms of superdelegates supporting each). And while that potentially bodes well for Clinton, the members of the committee have several other things to consider outside of their own personal preferences.

  • First of all, as Thomas Edsall mentions in his Huffington Post piece, the Rules and Bylaws Committee members would have to deal with the perception that they have overturned the will of the people if they were to rule that Florida and Michigan should be counted.
  • Secondly, they have to deal with the inevitable challenge of the decision by the Obama campaign to the Credentials Committee.
  • Finally, and perhaps this should be first, the members of the R&B would have to confront the idea of going back on a penalty that they initiated.
Yes, it was the Rules and Bylaws Committee that levied the "lose all your delegates" penalty against both Florida and Michigan in the first place. Something tells me that the members of the committee may not be interested in completely emasculating the national party when it comes to the matter of the timing of future delegate selection events. If they reverse their own decision from last August, then they risk the DNC losing what little power it does have to deal with the frontloading of presidential primaries and caucuses. This consideration, and this one alone, is why I keep arguing that the DNC will go back to the original penalty (half the delegates from each state) and justify the move by saying that the complete stripping of delegates was too severe a penalty. This is the least talked about aspect of this decision but it may be the most important when it comes to the perceived strength of the DNC in relation to both the candidates and the state parties, but also in relation to its counterpart on the Republican side, the RNC.

[Of course, nothing regarding Florida or Michigan will be decided without intense consultation between the two candidates and the party. Obama won't budge if the plan means he loses the delegate or popular vote lead. And Clinton won't move from her position that they should be counted in some way. If there is a way to avoid this being a zero-sum game, neither the party nor the candidates have come up with it yet.]

What happens if we run the gauntlet on this decision, though? ...if the Rules and Bylaws Committee opts to count Florida and Michigan and as a result hands the nomination over to Clinton, for the time being? Well, if the R&B fails to act prior to the end of June, the jurisdiction on the matter goes over to the Credentials Committee anyway. But let's assume that R&B does, in fact, act to fully include Florida and Michigan. The decision on the nomination then goes from one committee to the next. And the Credentials Committee seems to lean in Obama's direction (based on the results of the 2008 primaries and caucuses so far and the Dean 25--those members appointed by the current DNC chair, Howard Dean.).

Does the appeal then reverse the reversal? Possibly. But that probably wouldn't be the final word. That's right, the floor fight we all envisioned last year as the least likely contingency plan for the nomination decision, could come to pass. And in that event, all the divisiveness, doomsday scenarios laid out by Howard Dean, Joe Andrew and some of the other party elites would come into play. All the while John McCain gets to practice saying his name with President in front of it.

It should be an interesting and well-covered meeting of the R&B on May 31.

...if Indiana and North Carolina go the way of the current polls.

Recent Posts:
Obama's Caucus Strategy

7! 7 Votes in Guam!

"We'll know it when we see it."


Robert said...

Today is another big day. Looks like bottommed out in both states and appears to be making a comeback over the weekend. Can't wait for the results tonight.

Josh Putnam said...

The interesting news so far is the Clinton camp setting a low bar in NC. They say they are "prepared" for a 15+ point loss there.

But yes, Obama has rebounded, though I doubt that much. However, some of the early voting in NC preceded Wright 2.0 and may not have been affected. Plus, this regression analysis predicts a 16 point win for Obama there. I still like 10 points. Everything above that is good for Obama.

Clinton by seven in Indiana sounds about right. Too much central Pennsylvania there and not enough Philly for Obama. If he has a shot he really has to turn out in Indy, Gary and the college towns throughout the state. The demographics just suit Clinton better.