The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee Meeting

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In 2000, Democrats wanted everyone not to forget what happened in the Sunshine State. In 2008, the Clinton camp wants everyone to remember Florida and Michigan. hide caption

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Election 2008

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The last time a vice presidential nominee was decided by convention delegates came in 1956, when Democrats in Chicago picked Estes Kefauver to run with Adlai Stevenson. hide caption

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Bob Barr is the first former House member to head a third-party ticket since Ron Paul in 1988. hide caption

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Forty years ago today, Bobby Kennedy said he might quit the race if he failed to win the California primary. hide caption

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I know what you're thinking. This is the kind of headline that sends chills down one's leg. Guaranteed to increase readership. Double it, in fact.

The scary part is, actually, it's true. Only in this most remarkable battle for a presidential nomination in decades, one that has made political junkies out of even the most jaded of bystanders, can a heretofore ignored meeting of a heretofore ignored committee of the national Democratic Party become the most talked about event of the week.

If you loved the endless conversation about the shape and length of the table during the Paris peace talks in 1968, then you'll love the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting.

My tone is semi-mocking, but the stakes are high. It may be Hillary Clinton's last shot at winning her party's nomination. As it is, the odds of that happening are between slim and none, and probably far closer to none than slim. But there will be drama on Saturday, starting at 9:30 a.m., when the 30 members of the Rules Committee, advocates from the punished states of Michigan and Florida, DNC officials, Clinton and Obama partisans, pro-Hillary protesters, and eight gazillion political journalists will gather at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.

The issue: how to deal with two states that violated party rules by holding their primaries in January. At the time, the Rules Committee voted to penalize the states by taking away half their delegates, as the rules call for. The vote on the committee was nearly unanimous, and it included the vote of committee member/Clinton bigwig Harold Ickes. All the candidates — including Clinton and Obama — agreed not to campaign in either state; Obama, in fact, withdrew his name from the Michigan ballot. Clinton kept hers on. And though she won both states convincingly, she said at the time that in effect the votes didn't amount for much. That was then.

Clinton has since changed her tune, saying that this is a civil rights issue, that she won the primaries and thus should get the appropriate number of delegates. Meaningless back then, suddenly the symbol of democracy today. She has equated the situation in Michigan and Florida to those fighting for a fair election in Zimbabwe and has suggested that it all has all the makings of Jim Crow laws in the South. I'm not making that up.

But the DNC has changed its tune since then as well, taking away all the delegates from the two states, not just half. No one can envision a Democratic convention in Denver without the 368 total delegates from Michigan or Florida, and no one thinks that's even a slim possibility. But will there be a seating of half the delegates or all of them? Will they be divided 50-50, or will Clinton get a majority of both? And will Clinton's majority be large enough to be acceptable by her campaign?

And how do you decide how many delegates Obama should get out of Michigan, since his name wasn't even on the ballot there?

And how do you not punish two states that broke the rules? This is, after all, a Rules Committee. What message does it send to the 48 states that followed the script?

(For the record, most nonpartisan reviews of the process indicate that Clinton supporters make up about 13 of the Rules Committee members, compared to eight or so for Obama. But the sense is that this is unlikely to play into what the committee decides.)

And what if the result is unacceptable to the Clinton forces? There remains the possibility that she could take her case to the 186-member Credentials Committee, which would meet sometime this summer. If it goes that far, whatever decision the credentials folks make would have to be ratified by the full convention, in Denver in late August. The last thing many Democrats want is a floor fight at the convention.

That's why Saturday's committee meeting is so important. A compromise satisfactory to both sides could keep a problem from turning into a disaster. That's why the betting is that it won't go all the way to Denver.

But how much of this campaign has followed a predictable script?

P.S. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Could you imagine what might have happened if Michigan and Florida kept their original primary dates? Instead of trying to diminish the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire by moving up in the calendar, had they stayed where they were, one, the party would have been spared this anguish; and two, they could have had a major say in deciding who the nominee would be. Maybe a lesson for 2012.

And now, your questions:

Q: I recently heard on NPR that a superdelegate who had endorsed Clinton had changed her support to Obama. With all the attention given to these superdelegates, why hasn't anyone added a disclaimer to these statements that an endorsement, or even a commitment, does not equal a vote at the convention? Is this failure just an effort to add to the drama? - Barbara Baum, Seattle

A: Your point is, technically, correct. Any delegate — one determined in the primaries or caucuses, or one of the supers — is free to change his or her mind at any time in the process until the actual balloting at the national convention. The rule binding delegates was changed after 1980, too late to help Sen. Ted Kennedy in his challenge to President Carter at the convention in Madison Square Garden (when Kennedy tried to bring about that rules change).

But it's been a long time since anyone talked about delegate counts, and it's been decades since anyone was having this conversation in June. While Bill Clinton officially locked up the 1992 Democratic nomination on June 2, it was effectively his after his triumph in the New York primary in April. In 2000, when Clinton was departing after two terms, Al Gore clinched the nomination in early March, not long after Iowa and New Hampshire. It was a similar early night for John Kerry in his 2004 bid. By focusing on delegate counts, we're not just trying to add to the drama. There's plenty of drama, and it's justified.

Q: Do you know where I could look online to find the TOTAL number of votes cast for the Democratic presidential candidates vs. the TOTAL number of votes cast for the Republican candidate? - Mitchelle Stephenson, Edgewater, Md.

A: You can find state-by-state results, along with a wonderful interactive presidential primary map on NPR's Web site.

A national tally can be found in many places; one I recommend is Real Clear Politics.

Q: Has a national party convention for either party ever decided the vice presidential nominee? - Jerry Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals, Oklahoma City

A: In the old, old days, running mates were decided at the convention, along with the presidential nominee. The VP choice was often made by the party bosses, who were looking to balance a ticket for geographic or ideological reasons. At the 1932 Democratic convention, Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York and House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas battled through four ballots before FDR won the nomination and Garner became the running mate. After that, the presidential candidate generally named his ticket mate, but in 1956, Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson threw open the VP spot to the delegates at the Chicago convention. They selected Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, a Stevenson rival, but it took two ballots. Every running mate since has been chosen by the candidate. When Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, it was the first time a No. 2 was named in advance of the convention.

Q: Both John Edwards and Mitt Romney are being considered as potential VP candidates. When was the last time both running mates were unsuccessful presidential hopefuls that same year? - Paula Benson, Louisville, Ky.

A: The problem with finding a similar situation is that it's not often when there's a concurrent fight for both party nominations, as there is this year. The last time the VP candidates were presidential hopefuls that same year — and I could be wrong on this — was in 1884, when the Republican running mate, Illinois Sen. John Logan, had earlier challenged James Blaine for the GOP nomination. On the Democratic side, Sen. Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, also a presidential hopeful, was picked by nominee Grover Cleveland as his No. 2.

Of course, there are others who sought the presidency this year who are now being bandied about for VP. On the Democratic side, the list includes New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sens. Joe Biden (DE) and Chris Dodd (CT) — and, for all we know, Hillary Rodham Clinton. For the Republicans, there's former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Q: Will Bob Barr, who has received the nomination of the Libertarian Party, get as many votes as Ralph Nader did — 2.9 million — in 2000? - Jason Cole, Tucson, Ariz.

A: A good question. If there is residual unhappiness among some conservative Republicans regarding John McCain, Barr's candidacy could prove to be an important outlet for them. Remember, what's interesting about Nader's numbers in 2000 is not the nearly 3 million votes he received nationwide, but the 97,000 he got in Florida and the 22,000 votes in New Hampshire. Democrats contend that Nader's totals in these states are what elected George W. Bush, who won the Sunshine State by just 537 votes and New Hampshire by 7,211.

Barr is the latest former or current House member to head up an independent or third-party presidential ticket. Others on the list include:

Ron Paul, ex-Republican from Texas, Libertarian Party candidate, 1988

John Anderson, Republican from Illinois, independent candidate, 1980

John Rarick, ex-Democrat from Louisiana, American Independent Party candidate, 1980

John Schmitz, Republican from California, American Party candidate, 1972

Libertarian candidates buttons

Items above are courtesy NPR correspondent Jeff Brady, who was told that unless he came back with buttons, his piece on the Libertarian convention in Denver would never get on the air. Buttons left to right: presidential hopefuls Mary Ruwart, Wayne Allyn Root, George Phillies, Alden Link. Root wound up as the running mate for winner Bob Barr. hide caption

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Q: A correction from your May 14 list of special congressional election results. Tom Campbell (R-CA) did not win Norm Mineta's (D-CA) seat in 1995. Campbell won a seat in the 1980s, and then Anna Eshoo (D) succeeded him. - Jon Levinson, San Carlos, Calif.

 

A: Nope. It's true that Campbell originally won a different seat in 1988, unseating fellow Republican Ernie Konnyu in the primary, and it's true that he was succeeded by Anna Eshoo when he left the House to run for the GOP Senate nomination four years later. But in 1995, Mineta, who later served as transportation secretary under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, resigned from the House (from a nearby district) to accept a job with Lockheed Martin. Campbell ran and won in a special October 1995 election and served until he made another ill-fated Senate bid, this time in 2000 against Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein.

 

Q: When was the last time two elected senators, currently serving, faced off in a presidential election? - Jerome Kleinsasser, Bakersfield, Calif.

 

A: Never before this year. As it is, only two incumbent senators were ever elected president: John Kennedy (D-MA) in 1960 and Warren Harding (R-OH) in 1920. This year, Obama or McCain will make it a third.

 

Q: Has Hillary Clinton gone mad? She points to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to make her point that she could still win the Democratic nomination? - Linda Miller, Boulder, Colo.

 

A: In a meeting last week with the editorial board of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota, which holds its primary next Tuesday, Clinton was asked about why she doesn't drop out of the race. This was her answer:

 

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it [about the calls for her to end her campaign]."

 

Do I think, as some have speculated, that she was suggesting that Barack Obama could be assassinated and thus give her a chance at winning the nomination? Of course not. She said she was just trying to make the case that, in effect, things happen — that it ain't over until it's over. She acknowledged that it was a poor reference to make and apologized.

 

By the same token, when someone said on CNN back on April 27 that Hillary Clinton reminded him of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction, was he suggesting that she is a homicidal maniac who would boil bunnies on the stove? Of course not. That person was only saying — inartfully, as he later conceded — that there was no reason for her to drop out of the race, that there were plenty of primaries to go and that she had shown such perseverance that dropping out was out of the question. She was no more going to disappear than that Glenn Close character did. That person acknowledged that it was a poor reference to make and apologized. It was said without thinking. And, as he said on NPR's Talk of the Nation last week, he understands how words hurt and how throwaway lines like that can very well be seen as sexist or misogynist, or worse.

 

Nonetheless, the hate mail continues. As I wrote in the April 30 column, much of the e-mail directed at this person has "contained an astonishing amount of vitriol and hate. It's distressing that many of those who complain the most about bigotry and ignorance exhibit it themselves."

 

But I guess the lesson from this is to be more sensitive to what could be perceived as hurtful language. Which led to this question:

 

Q: Regarding your comment on Talk of the Nation [on May 14] that women in Oregon shouldn't vote: I only heard the end of the show, but were you saying that they shouldn't vote for Hillary? - Sally O'Donnell, Eugene, Ore.

 

A: You would think I would learn my lesson by now. It was a poor attempt at a playful joke. I was talking about Oregon and that it's a "mail-only" primary. In an aside, I said it made me wonder if that meant women couldn't vote. The live audience at the Newseum laughed, but I guess not everyone listening to the show knew what I was saying. Sigh.

 

ON THE CALENDAR:

 

May 30 - Virginia Republican state convention, Richmond.

 

May 31 - Democratic National Committee meeting on rules to address Michigan/Florida delegate situation.

 

June 1 - Democratic presidential primary in Puerto Rico.

 

June 3 - Presidential primaries in Montana and South Dakota (the last two states to vote for presidential nominees). There are also state and congressional primaries in:

 

Alabama - Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) is seeking a third term. Open House seats in the 2nd Congressional District, where Terry Everett (R) is retiring, and in the 5th CD, where Bud Cramer (D) is retiring.

 

California - Key GOP primary in the 4th CD, where Rep. John Doolittle (R) is retiring. Candidates: ex-Rep. Doug Ose and state Sen. Tom McClintock. There is another open seat in the 52nd CD, where Duncan Hunter (R) is retiring; one of his sons, Duncan, is among the candidates to succeed him.

 

Iowa - Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is seeking a fifth term.

 

Montana - Sen. Max Baucus (D) is seeking a sixth term.

 

New Jersey - Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is seeking a fifth (nonconsecutive) term, but is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Rep. Rob Andrews. In addition to Andrews' 1st District seat, there are open seats in the 3rd, where Jim Saxton (R) is retiring, and the 7th, where Mike Ferguson (R) is leaving. Among the GOP candidates running in the latter district is Kate Whitman, daughter of ex-Gov. Christie Whitman.

 

New Mexico - Sen. Pete Domenici (R) is retiring after six terms, and all three of the state's House members are hoping to succeed him: Heather Wilson (R) from the 1st CD, Steve Pearce (R) from the 2nd and Tom Udall (D) from the 3rd. Udall will face the winner of the Wilson-Pearce GOP primary in November.

 

South Dakota - Sen. Tim Johnson (D) is seeking a third term.

 

CHECK OUT NPR'S SENATE MAP: All 35 seats up in 2008 are analyzed on NPR's new interactive Senate map.

 

POLITICAL JUNKIE EVERY WEDNESDAY AT THE NEWSEUM: For years now (I know, it seems longer), Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, has featured a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Now TOTN (and its Junkie sidekick) take their act each Wednesday before a live audience at the Newseum, Washington's new interactive museum dedicated to journalism. It is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., off Sixth Street.

 

This week's special guest was Ron Klain, a former aide to Al Gore, who talked about his role in helping select a running mate for Gore in 2000.

 

Want to be part of the live audience? The tickets are free. And you get to see what Ken Rudin looks like in person, a worrisome proposition in any case. Send an e-mail request to tickets@npr.org.

 

And remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web or on HD Radio. And if you are a subscriber to Sirius radio, you can find the show there as well (siriusly).

 

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? It's easy, and it's free! Simply go to the iTunes web site, type in "It's All Politics," and you're there. Last week we celebrated our 100th broadcast, a momentous occasion that the DNC is nonetheless planning to ignore this weekend.

 

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

 

This day in campaign history: Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY), continuing his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination one day after his defeat in the Oregon primary, says that he might withdraw from the race if he loses the June 4 California primary to rival Eugene McCarthy (May 29, 1968).

 

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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