Monday, May 19, 2008

It's Too Late: Florida, Michigan Delegates Can't Save Clinton

Obama's Overall Delegate Lead -- And His Accelerating Momentum Among Superdelegates -- Is Now Too Large for Clinton to Close, Even if Florida and Michigan Delegates Are Seated as the Former First Lady Wants Them to Be

Obama Oregon

Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama embraces his daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha, and his wife, Michelle, on Sunday during a campaign event in Portland, Oregon, which drew about 75,000 people -- the largest crowd to attend a political campaign rally so far this year. (Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press)

By Nedra Pickler and Mike Glover
The Associated Press

Sorry, Senator Clinton. Michigan and Florida can't save your campaign.

Interviews with those considering how to handle the two states' banished convention delegates found little interest in the former first lady's best-case scenario. Her position, part of a formidable comeback challenge, is that all the delegates be seated in accordance with their disputed primaries.

And even if they were, Hillary Rodham Clinton still couldn't catch up with Barack Obama's growing lead in delegates.

The Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, a 30-member panel charged with interpreting and enforcing party rules, is scheduled to meet May 31 to consider how to handle Michigan and Florida's 366 delegates.

Last year, the panel imposed the harshest punishment it could render against the two states after they scheduled primaries in January, even though they were instructed not to vote until February 5 or later. Michigan and Florida lost all their delegates to the national convention, and all the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, stripping them of all the influence they were trying to build by voting early.

But now there is agreement on all sides that at least some of the delegates should be restored in a gesture of party unity and respect to voters in two general election battlegrounds.

Clinton has been arguing for full reinstatement, which would boost her standing. She won both states, even though they didn't count toward the nomination and neither candidate campaigned in them. Obama even had his name pulled from Michigan's ballot.

Committee Members Say Florida, Michigan 'Must Be Punished' for Breaking Party Rules...

The Associated Press interviewed a third of the panel members and several other Democrats involved in the negotiations and found widespread agreement that the states must be punished for stepping out of line. If not, the members say, other states will do the same thing in four years.

"We certainly want to be fair to both candidates, and we want to be sure that we are fair to the 48 states who abided by the rules," said Democratic National Committee Secretary Alice Germond, a panel member unaligned with either candidate. "We don't want absolute chaos for 2012.

"We want to reach out to Michigan and Florida and seat some group of delegates in some manner, at least most of us do. These are two critical states for the general (election) and the voters of those states who were not the people who caused this awful conundrum to occur deserve our attention and deserve to be a part of our process and deserve to be at the convention," she said.

... But Panel Is Split Between Obama, Clinton Partisans

Just as Democrats across the country have been divided over which candidate would make the better nominee, most of the panel members also bring personal preferences and political allegiances to the table.

Many are long-standing party officials with close ties to the Clintons. The former first lady has 13 members publicly supporting her. Eight are openly aligned with Obama. Nine others are officially undeclared.

"We have to have delegates, and they have to be delegations that reflect the opinions of those two states," said former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a committee member supporting Clinton. "How we get there is very different because everyone sees these questions of who it helps and who it hurts. I don't think the formulation has been found that will get around the piece at this point." But he said a solution is probably possible among the diverse interests.

Because Obama is in the lead for the nomination, his camp heads into the meeting in a position of strength. It is possible the Illinois senator could clinch the nomination by the time the panel meets if he picks up the pace of superdelegate endorsements in the next two weeks.

But Obama has such a lead that he may be able to afford to be generous and give Clinton most of the delegates. That would help put the issue behind them and help him build good will in Michigan and Florida heading into the November election.

Still, some of Obama's supporters think the fairest solution is to disregard the primary votes and split the delegations evenly between the two candidates.

"It has to be a fair process for both candidates," said member Yvonne Gates, an Obama supporter from Nevada who said she wasn't sure what position she would support at the meeting. "My definition is a 50-50 split is something that is fair. It cannot be a situation where you give one candidate more votes than the other. In my opinion that wasn't an election when they didn't have a chance to get out and talk to the people of that community."

It's also possible that any vote that recognizes the Michigan and Florida results would legitimize their elections. Clinton has been arguing that she leads in the popular vote, but that's only when both states are included and it is very slim — fewer than 5,000 votes out of 34 million cast.

Clinton's Claim of Popular-Vote Lead Ignores Caucus States That Heavily Favored Obama

Her accounting also doesn't include some caucus states that favored Obama and where the popular vote wasn't tallied. The measure of winning the nomination is not the popular vote but the delegate count, and according to the AP's latest tally, Obama leads 1,907 to 1,718, with 2,026 needed for the nomination. Still, Clinton is trying to use the popular-vote argument to win over some delegates.

So far, Obama's campaign has not been giving direction publicly or privately to panel members. The Clinton campaign's official position has been full reinstatement, but her advisers acknowledge they are considering an idea before the panel to seat the delegates with half a vote each. Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe said last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that they "certainly might" accept a compromise to seat half the delegates.

If their elections had been held according to party rules, Michigan and Florida would have allocated a total of 313 pledged delegates based on the outcome of the vote. Using the results of the January elections, Clinton would get 178 to Obama's 67, giving her a 111-vote advantage. As of Thursday, she was behind 180 delegates, so that would not catch her up even under that unlikely scenario.

The plans before the committee will be more generous to Obama. The Michigan Democratic Party has proposed giving 69 of its 128 delegates to Clinton and 59 to Obama, an advantage of 10 delegates for Clinton.

A proposal from Florida would halve its 185 delegates. From that, Clinton would get 52.5 and Obama 33.5, a 19-delegate advantage for Clinton.

"I think it's a reasonable solution to the problem that was created, and my hope is that we'll be able to get past this and move on," said Allan Katz, an Obama supporter who serves on the panel but won't be able to vote on any Florida solution because he is from the state.

The committee is not bound to select the proposals offered and has authority to reinstate any number of delegates and divide them in any way.

Michigan, Florida Superdelegates Still At Issue

An open question is how to handle the other type of delegates each state lost — the superdelegates who are party leaders not bound by the outcome of the vote and are free to support whatever candidate they personally choose. Michigan has 28 superdelegates, and Florida 25. A total of eight have declared for Obama, seven for Clinton and the rest are undeclared.

Germond said she hopes the meeting will begin the process of unifying the party.

"Probably what we will come up with will not make everybody or anybody completely happy, which will mean that we did a good job," she said. "It is mighty unfortunate that at this point in our nominating process we are talking about people who did not abide by the process instead of talking about (beating Republican presidential candidate) John McCain."

Obama Rally in Oregon Draws Biggest Crowd to Date -- And Goes After McCain

Hours before being greeted by the biggest crowd of his campaign, Obama quietly told a small group of seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security they depend on because he supports privatizing the program.

Fire officials estimated 75,000 packed into a riverside park for a spectacular afternoon rally at a sun-splashed scene on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland. They said an additional 15,000 were left outside and dozens of boaters could be seen floating in the river.

"Wow, wow, wow," Obama said as he surveyed the audience. "We have had a lot of rallies. This is the most spectacular setting, the most spectacular crowd we have had this entire campaign."

While more subdued, his appearance early in the day before about 130 people at an assisted living facility to talk Social Security was a significant attempt to tie the GOP's presidential nominee-in-waiting to an unpopular President Bush on a pocket book issue that motivates seniors — and also concerns younger generations worried about their own future retirement.

"Let me be clear, privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it, it's a bad idea today," Obama said. "That's why I stood up against this plan in the Senate and that's why I won't stand for it as president."

Bush proposed a Social Security plan in 2005 that focused on creating private accounts for younger workers, but it never came up for a vote in Congress. Democrats strongly opposed the idea and few Republicans embraced it.

Obama said McCain would push to raise the retirement age for collecting Social Security benefits or trim annual cost-of-living increases. Obama has rejected both ideas as solutions to the funding crisis projected for Social Security in favor of making higher-income workers pay more into the system.

"We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden onto seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity," he said.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds accused Obama of making "misinformed partisan attacks."

"John McCain has been clear about his belief that we must fix Social Security for future generations and keep our promises to today's retirees, but raising taxes should not be the answer to every problem," Bound said.

Clinton, in Kentucky, Gets an Unpleasant Reminder of Husband's Infidelity

Clinton spent a second straight day in Kentucky, where she is favored to win when its voters head to the polls Tuesday -- the same day Obama is expected to coast to an easy victory in Oregon.

She attended worship services at a Methodist church in Bowling Green, and happily sang hymns and joined in Bible readings. But her smile faded when the pastor launched into a sermon about adultery, asking his congregants whether the devil had ever whispered over their shoulders in their marriages.

For the former first lady, the sermon was sure to revive unpleasant personal memories of former President Bill Clinton's infidelities, particularly his much-publicized affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky -- a scandal that got him impeached in 1999.

Her mood appeared to brighten by the time she arrived for a rally at Western Kentucky University.

"Now, my opponent said the other day he wasn't coming back, so I've got the whole state to myself," Clinton said, sounding happy not to be sharing the Kentucky spotlight. "What a treat."

Later Sunday, the Clinton campaign collected about $150,000 at a backyard fundraiser in Fort Mitchell, a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. Nathan Smith, the event's host, is vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and a superdelegate — but he still has not committed to supporting Clinton.

Obama Shifts Fully Into Fall Campaign Mode

Obama has begun casting himself as the inevitable nominee and using his time to distinguish himself from McCain as he pivots toward the fall campaign. He has scheduled appearances later this week in Iowa and Florida, two key swing states.

He underscored that speaking with reporters in the Portland suburb of Milwaukee, saying he'll use the Iowa visit as another way to focus on November.

"We thought it was a terrific way to kind of bring things full circle," said Obama. "We still have some contests left but if Kentucky and Oregon go as we hope, then we think we will have a majority of pledged delegates at that point and that's a pretty significant mark, that means that after contests in every state, or almost every state and the territories, that we have received a majority of the delegates that are assigned by voters."

He declined to declare victory.

"It doesn't mean we've declared victory because I won't be the nominee until we have a combination of both pledged delegates and super delegates to hit the mark," said Obama. "What it does mean is the voters have given us a majority of delegates. Obviously that's what this primary and caucus process is all about."

During the meeting with seniors, Obama was asked why McCain seems to have avoided the enormous press scrutiny the Democrats have gotten.

Obama said McCain has benefited from a Republican nomination process that ended early while the Democratic race continues. He said the attention both candidates receive will grow more intense as the race settles into an Obama-McCain contest.

"It's very understandable that the press has focused on myself and Senator Clinton because it's been a pretty exciting race," Obama said. "The fact is that the press will submit him to the same scrutiny they are giving to me."

"People will lift the hood and kick the tires with John McCain, just like they do with me," he said, who traveled Sunday with his wife and daughters.

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Volume III, Number 33
Special Report Copyright 2008, The Associated Press.
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