Sunday, August 3, 2008

About Those Rules: What Obama's New Florida/Michigan Stance Means for 2012 and Beyond

Now, the Credentials Committee will have some say in this, but...

Obama's decision to call for a full seating of the delegates from Florida and Michigan has opened up a Pandora's box. Yes, it was clever of his campaign to come out with this now, after Hillary Clinton had been out of the spotlight for nearly two months. For delegates to go against two months of effort on behalf of Obama as the presumptive nominee and opt for Clinton, would be tantamount to ceding the election to McCain. Timing-wise then, it was a good move to make the call now (if he was going to do it at all). At this point, the intra-party tension has been sufficiently minimized, so that it is only likely to elicit a response from the most vocal Clinton supporters/Obama detractors.

To me though, that isn't real issue here. And, as is often the case with the Democratic Party, rule changes lead to some discernible differences, but also leave them vulnerable to any number of unforeseen, unintended consequences. If the Credentials Committee gives the green light to Obama's wishes for full voting rights for Florida and Michigan at the convention later this month, then states wanting to challenge Iowa and New Hampshire's first in the nation caucus and primary status in 2012 are going to be given a real morale boost.

Said one fictitious state legisltor:
"Delegates, schmelagates. If the sanctions don't mean anything anyway, let's move our primary way up so that we at least have some influence over who the presidential nominee is. The convention is only a PR extravaganza anyway. The delegates there only rubber stamp the decision made in the primaries; the early primaries."

And that's the catch here. This opens the door to any number of challenges to Iowa and New Hampshire. The Credentials Committee, then, can seat those delegates with full (not half) votes, but they had better hope that the Rules and Bylaws Committee does something at the convention to address 2012 and beyond (and they will. We just don't have any idea of to what extent they'll do something.). Either that, or rely on the GOP to debate the Ohio Plan at their convention or hope the federal government intervenes. Otherwise, states are going to move into the down-time between cycles -- when the frontloading decisions are made -- with an ability to move with impunity.

If Obama wins in November, this is a moot point.

...until 2016.
or
...unless things go badly and he is challenged in the primaries in 2012 (Could Clinton/Obama II be like Carter and Kennedy in 1980?).

If McCain wins, 2012 could be ugly for the Democratic Party in terms of how it will deal with states which will be tempted more than ever to hold a primary of caucus ahead of the earliest point that the party will allow (currently the first Tuesday in February).

So sure, Florida and Michigan matter to the Democrats' fortunes in 2008, but are they thinking ahead to 2012 and beyond? And while we're on the subject, is unity between those two states and the Democratic nominee a real problem now? Michigan is tight in the poll, but still favors Obama. And Florida is trending in the direction of the Illinois senator. What is gained from giving these delegates their full voice and is that really going to turn the tide in either state? Yes, I realize there is a sense of fairness and democracy here, but I'm talking about this in terms of how this affects the party's nominee in the election. Does that gain outweigh the potential headache 2012 frontloaders are going to provide? That is the question. Apparently it does.


Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (8/3/08)

So, Who's Going to Win This Race? The Forecasts are Starting to Come In

VP Announcement Timing

4 comments:

Robert said...

Josh,

If the Democrats cave, it opens up all sorts of problems. They would be foolish to listen to Obama on this one.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Pundits have been saying all along that once the nomination was decided that the Florida and Michigan delegations would have the penalty lifted. Deciding to leave it in place would actually come off as spiteful.

I don't think this will really affect the plans of states for 2012--it's pro forma. It's clear that if the nomination had somehow come down to those delegates, the RBC assigned a penalty, and it would likely have stuck.

It doesn't mean states won't use this in their talking points, though...

And yes, the frontloading problem is obviously a major issue for future elections which should be dealt with now.

Josh Putnam said...

I think that's a fair distinction to make, Scott. You're right that it likely changes little in the minds of state legislators and state parties, but this certainly cements Florida and Michigan as repetitive talking points when these moves are discussed within states.

And again, there are two inter-related factors to keep tabs on (as to whether this will matter even as a talking point):

1. Who wins this election?
and
2. If Obama wins what the GOP will have done at their convention.

If the GOP passes on the Ohio Plan (I think they will.), then the free-for-all for 2012 will only have a Republican flavor. GOP-controlled states will be the only ones considering moving. And those states probably won't be citing Florida and Michigan as arguments for or against that move.

If Obama loses, however, much will depend upon whether Clinton runs. It that appears to be a done-deal well in advance, then states are likely to pass on 2012, opting instead to save money as opposed to moving. If, however, there seems to be another viable alternative to Clinton (or if she decides to stay in the Senate), states may be tempted to flout party rules to move.

Otherwise, it will be 2016 before this really matters.

Jack said...

Obama really should have done this before the Rules and Bylaws Committee met, as he already basically had the nomination locked up, in order to placate some people. But I guess you have to be extra-careful when you're running against Hillary Clinton.

I agree with Scott's comment that this won't make much of an impact in the future because, well, I'll quote: "If the nomination had somehow come down to those delegates, the RBC assigned a penalty, and it would likely have stuck.

Nobody paid much attention to the Florida and Michigan Democratic primaries this year, and should such a thing happen again, the same thing will happen, as people will know that the delegates won't count unless they don't matter.

Probably, what the DNC should do in the future is to put their foot down and say that under NO circumstances will they allow the delegates to be counted, period. That should avert such controversy in the future.