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.
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.
Bob Barr is the first former House member to head a third-party ticket since Ron Paul in 1988.
Forty years ago today, Bobby Kennedy said he might quit the race if he failed to win the California primary.
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