Analysis: Resolving Impasse on Fla., Mich. Delegates
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
ROBERT SMITH, host:
And I'm Robert Smith in for Steve Inskeep.
After months of campaigning and primary after primary after primary, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination may come down to this: a meeting this weekend of the rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee. That group is hoping to resolve the impasse over Michigan and Florida, the two states that were stripped of their delegates for holding early primaries. Their decision will affect whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will face John McCain in the November election.
Joining us now is a man whose pulse starts racing when he hears the words rules and bylaws committee, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.
KEN RUDIN: Oh, Robert…
SMITH: Good morning.
RUDIN: …stop teasing me.
SMITH: So, I think what everyone wants to know is depending on the ruling of this committee, will it be possible for Clinton to win the nomination?
RUDIN: Well, she certainly hopes so. It's very unlikely. She's still 200 delegates behind Barack Obama. There's a lot of pressure from the party for business to be wrapped up pretty quickly. But she needs to make the case that if Michigan and Florida counted - she won both primaries back in January - if they count, then she'll get the votes, then she'll get the delegates, then she can appeal to these superdelegates who have yet to decide who they want for the nomination, that she's a stronger candidate in November, she's gotten more votes than Barack Obama during the primaries and caucuses and therefore she deserves to be the nominee.
Unfortunately for her, even since Pennsylvania, which she won pretty handily, and subsequent states where she won pretty handily, the superdelegates seem to be trickling in Barack Obama's favor.
SMITH: So, it's not that she can get enough delegates this weekend; it's that she can finally have a persuasive argument.
RUDIN: Her argument from the beginning is that let every vote count, even though back in January, her campaign and the Obama campaign - basically everybody else - said these will not count. Forty-eight states followed the rules; Michigan and Florida didn't follow the rules, they should be punished. The Clinton campaign agreed that they should be punished. But now since this is her only recourse she now feels that this is something that has to go through to the end.
SMITH: So, as they go before this committee, what will the Clinton campaign argue? What do they want?
RUDIN: Well, they want, obviously, a fair distribution of the Michigan and Florida delegates. Even…
SMITH: Does that mean all of the ones that she might have won from the contested vote (unintelligible)…
RUDIN: Well, that's the thing. First of all, in Michigan, for example, Barack Obama was not even on the ballot. So the Clinton campaign says, well, how do you divide up delegates between Obama and Clinton if Barack Obama was not even on the ballot to begin with. So there's a lot of, you know, back and forth.
There's a proposal out there in Michigan that Hillary Clinton would get 69 delegates - less than she wants, more than Barack Obama would like her to have - and Barack Obama would get 59. There are some Clinton delegates who say that's not enough, that she deserves more because she won the state handily.
SMITH: If she can't get enough delegates necessarily to clinch the nomination from this weekend, then why does the Obama campaign even fight this? I mean, why make an issue of this?
RUDIN: Well, they're not actually making the big issue as they would have earlier. Initially they said this should be a 50/50 split, these delegations broke the rules. They should not be rewarded with having a say in the nomination. But since Barack Obama is, like, 200 delegates up, he could be more magnanimous, he could say, okay, Hillary Clinton could have more delegates in Florida, more delegates in Michigan. The thing they don't want, of course, is for her to get enough delegates that suddenly what look like to be no longer a fight for the nomination becomes a fight again.
SMITH: Well, we're talking about this like it's Clinton versus Obama. But there must be some people on the committee, and certainly on the DNC, who want to look at the bigger pictures, which is they want to be able to control the schedule of the primary and they want to make sure that Michigan and Florida are punished in some ways for this, right?
RUDIN: Well, the irony of this is had Michigan and Florida kept the dates they originally had…
RUDIN: …by not moving up, they could have been king or queen makers by having a tremendous say in who gets the nomination. But they were so jealous of the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire that they tried to move up into January, make a difference. And ultimately they hurt themselves.
SMITH: Do you think this will be a dramatic scene this week? I heard a tell of protestors actually.
RUDIN: There will be protestors - busloads of Hillary supporters. The Clinton campaign say that they're not responsible for it, not organizing it, but clearly they are in favor of Clinton's argument that every vote should count. Hillary Clinton has even been making this a civil rights issue. She's comparing the people in Michigan and Florida to the people in Zimbabwe who were struggling to get the vote to Jim Crow laws in the South.
She's making it a real civil rights issue. But, look, this is the rules committee. Ultimately it's about rules.
SMITH: So, if the committee decides against Hillary Clinton, will there be pressure for her to accept this rules committee or does she have other options?
RUDIN: Well, she does have another option: she can go to credentials committee…
(Soundbite of laughter)
SMITH: We do this all over again.
RUDIN: Exactly. There are 168 members of the credentials committee. They meet in either late July/early August. And whatever decision the credentials committee folks do has to be ratified by the full convention in Denver. And the last thing Democratic Party leaders want is for this to go to the floor of the convention. There's tremendous pressure on her to end this race, that she gave a good fight, but with the primaries over on Tuesday - South Dakota and Montana - it's time for an end.
Harry Reid has said so yesterday. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Committee, feels the same way.
SMITH: You know, I'm picturing this scene of protesters on both sides yelling back and forth, this dramatic decision by the committee. Very quickly, I mean, are we going to see a split here in the Democratic Party? This sounds very dramatic.
RUDIN: We have seen in the past when challenges go all the way to convention, we saw it with Kennedy and Carter in 1980, Humphrey and McGovern in '72, that a long, elongated protest can hurt the party, but ultimately, look, there's a dinner Saturday night in New York, a unity dinner. Hopefully they'll get some of these people back together.
SMITH: NPR political editor Ken Rudin, thanks.
SMITH: You can read Ken's Political Junkie column every week at npr.org/elections.