Saturday, February 09, 2008

Brain Science for Super-Delegates

The Conventional Wisdom narrative now is that Clinton and Obama are deadlocked, and the nomination may not be decided until the convention, which will put the party and the nominee in peril because the GOPer nominee--almost certainly John McCain--will have several months head start campaigning.

There is some substance to this analysis, and some problems with it. The substance is this: If Paul Kane of the Washington Post is right about the math, neither candidate can win enough delegates to secure the nomination in the primaries and caucuses to come. In that sense, it is a mathematical deadlock, assuming that both candidates get their usual share of the delegates in the contests between now and June.

If neither mathematically eliminates the other, and neither withdraws, then it's up to super-delegates and probably the convention, since the delegates belonging to Michigan and Florida may make the difference to a majority, and so the decision to seat them or not will determine the nominee.

Even as Super Tuesday votes were being counted, party chair Howard Dean was warning of this possibility. He is right to say it would be a disaster for the Democratic Party, and not just because the nominee would be playing catch-up against McCain. Some Democrats feel strongly that the time has passed that party insiders--the super-delegates--should name the nominee. Donna Brazile said if that happens she would quit the Democratic Party.

I am probably not alone in feeling just as strongly that seating Michigan and Florida delegates that reflect the outcome of their bogus primaries would be such a travesty that I would quit the Democratic Party. (I might still vote for the Democratic candidate in November, but not as a Democrat.) We had eight years of calamitous consequences thanks to the debacle of the 2000 election, and this is just as serious a travesty.

Both of these situations would be disastrous. The only other possibility I can think of--and perhaps Howard Dean was contemplating--is that one of the candidates would withdraw for the good of the party. Presumably it would be the candidate with the lesser number of pledged delegates.

As I said, the idea that Obama and Clinton are deadlocked itself has some problems. While it's true that at the moment they appear to be tied, there are more contests to come. It may be that what Super Tuesday showed is that Obama is moving up while Hillary is slipping down, and they happened to be even on that day. We'll get some evidence about that soon.

It's possible that the delegate count will wind up being very close between them by mid-March or the end of April. But it's also possible that it won't be--that there will be a clear leader.

So let's think this through now--especially you super-delegates. If there is a clear leader, isn't it likely to be Barack Obama? He is more likely to win the lion's share of delegates in the February caucuses and primaries, and he is likely to win close to half the delegates in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, even if Clinton wins a few more in each state than he does. It is less likely that Clinton will have a substantial lead in delegates at that point.

While you are contemplating that, think about which candidate is more likely to win in November, and which candidate is likely to be better for the Democratic Party then and for the long term.

The answer is the same: Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton is divisive. The Republicans are praying that she is the nominee. They raise money on the very idea that she will be. They can't wait to run against her. The Republican Party is in disarray now. But there is one thing that can unite it: Hillary as the Democratic nominee.

Clinton and others criticized Obama for suggesting that in recent elections, the Democrats had 46% and the Republicans had 46%, and everybody fought for the remainder, and the winner can't govern. Now look at the polls--most specifically the latest Time survey: Clinton 46%, McCain 46%. (Obama got 48% to McCain's 41%.) Various polls over at least a year have shown Clinton's favorables and unfavorables have been about even.

Clinton is divisive within the party. Many commentators have said openly that her campaign has used race against Obama. They've also said openly that she uses the woman as victim image for electoral advantage. Right now her campaign is whipping up a frenzy over a tasteless analogy used by a newsperson to galvanize and solidify white feminist support that has been peeling off.

Obama on the other hand has appealed to black voters and young voters with his message of unity. His campaign is not divisive. It has brought together established and insurgent elements of the Democratic Party, and it has brought thousands of new participants and millions of new voters.

When Obama says that he will keep the votes of people who are voting for Hillary, but she won't get all the votes of people voting for him--who can really dispute this?

And what will happen to the voters Obama has energized and galvanized in what he calls a movement as well as a candidacy? If he is not the nominee, much of that energy and many of those voters will be lost, perhaps for a long time. It's not that African American voters and young voters will go to the polls to vote for McCain. It's more likely that those who haven't been going to the polls before this year, won't go in November.

And if the perception is that Hillary has won the nomination through arm-twisting deals and bogus delegates from Michigan and Florida--then many of those young voters in particular will be lost to the party and the process for years to come, perhaps forever.

Obama had demonstrated a profound ability to get support from Independents and Republicans. He is attracting rural voters in Red States. He is attracting young professionals who may be Republicans. He is even capable of being strongly pro-choice and attracting pro-life voters who agree with him in other important ways. No other Democrats had demonstrated the breadth and depth of the voting groups and voters he can attract.

The Bangor Daily News expresses this well in an editorial that echoes many others throughout the country:

"Though Sen. Clinton has worked with Republicans, she would be a polarizing president. Whether deserved or not, the Clintons -- the senator and former president -- incite many Republicans to savage opposition, a response that could impede her ability to govern. Sen. Obama, a fresh face who must present more details of his proposals for addressing health care, the economy, climate change and other issues, stands a much better chance of working for a new agenda to tackle new problems, and finding common ground with Republicans. These are important considerations for Democrats this weekend."

So if you're a super-delegate who cares about the Democratic Party and its future, who wants to win the presidency in November and a lot of congressional seats besides, as well as state and local offices, and if you really want the new Democratic President to be effective in governing-- I don't think it's brain science to see that you're much better off with Barack Obama as the party's nominee.

So what's a nervous super-delegate to do? I'm not suggesting that you subvert the democratic process. But you can participate in it. Clearly super-delegates who have endorsed a candidate plan to vote for him or her. More of them should find the right time to endorse Obama. More of them should make these arguments in their states, because these are persuasive arguments for those who care about this election and the future.

Beyond that, a protracted, ugly struggle that is all too synonymous with "politics" truly does look like a nightmare that could hand the presidency to John McCain, who at the moment seems to be running to the Rabid Right of G.W. Bush. If he is that kind of President, kiss the country goodbye. And remember, Hillary is at best a 50%+1 candidate. It won't take much to erase the +1.

But of course it may not turn out to be that messy. While I have little confidence anymore in the honor of the Clintons, perhaps some honorable solution will be found. In the meantime, work the hope--get Barack Obama so many delegates that he can't be denied.

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