Democratic Rules, Yes; Democratic Unity, TBD "Unity" was the buzzword before, during and after Saturday's meeting of the DNC rules committee, held to resolve the status of the disputed Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida. But unity was nowhere to be found at the chaotic gathering.
NPR logo Democratic Rules, Yes; Democratic Unity, TBD

Democratic Rules, Yes; Democratic Unity, TBD

Ken Rudin and Renee Montagne discuss the Democratic delegate fallout on Morning Edition

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Ignoring the delegate count, the Clinton campaign tries to make the case that she would be the stronger Democrat in November. hide caption

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Republicans got behind Vice President George H.W. Bush early in 1988, and they won ... hide caption

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... But in 1964, the GOP failed to fully unite behind nominee Barry Goldwater. hide caption

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Forty-six years ago today, John Connally wins the Dem nomination for governor of Texas for the first time. hide caption

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"Unity" was the buzzword before, during and after Saturday's meeting of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee, held to resolve the status of the disputed Democratic delegates from Michigan and Florida. But unity was not to be found anywhere at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, certainly not in the faces and tears of the Hillary Clinton supporters. It's too soon to tell how long the anger and sense of betrayal will last. It was indeed a most emotional day.

The Clinton camp's argument going into the meeting was the same message it had been sending for quite some time: Count the votes and reinstate the delegates. Last year, when the two states announced they would move their primaries up to January in violation of party rules, the DNC punished them by taking away their delegates.

It was a decision that was supported at the time by most party officials, including Harold Ickes, a key Clinton adviser, who voted for the penalty as a member of the rules committee. Clinton herself acknowledged back then that the primaries wouldn't count. No candidate campaigned in either state. In Michigan, Obama (along with John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden) had removed his name from the ballot. Clinton, along with Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich, kept her name on. In Florida, all the candidates' names were on the ballot. Clinton got the most votes in both states.

Back in 2007, Clinton — lest we forget — was the clear Democratic front-runner. Her nomination, as we liked to say at the time, was "inevitable."

Fast forward to 2008, and Clinton found herself blindsided by a freshman senator from Illinois — an African American no less. Barack Obama, with little experience and a thin resume, raised an unheard of amount of money, drew huge crowds and was winning primaries and caucuses. At one stretch, he took 11 contests in a row. Clinton, suddenly behind in the race for delegates and the nomination, was forced to take a completely different tack. The Michigan and Florida results were now legitimate, she argued; they should be counted, and the delegates should be restored and awarded. As for Obama's decision to remove his name from the Michigan ballot, well, that was his mistake. That was the argument made by her supporters Saturday at the rules committee, led by Ickes.

Ultimately, this was Clinton's last conceivable shot at the nomination. Restore the results from the two states, and Clinton would claim — a dubious claim, but she was quickly running out of options — that her victories in Michigan and Florida put her in the lead for the popular vote. Her people have been trotting out that line for weeks now: They have the popular vote. (No one else holds that view.) That, and the fact that some polls showed her doing better than Obama against John McCain in some key battleground states, has been her argument to the remaining undecided superdelegates that they should rally around her.

There were other issues facing the 30 members of the DNC rules committee. Florida Democrats have argued that they should not be penalized because it was the Republicans — a GOP Legislature and a GOP governor — that decided to move their primary up to January. Democrats in the Sunshine State say they never had the votes to keep the primary from moving up and supported the measure only because it included a provision that called for a paper trail for each ballot cast. Given what happened in the 2000 presidential race, it's an issue dear to the hearts of many Florida Democrats.

Michigan Dems had a weaker case. As described by Sen. Carl Levin, who has been fuming at the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire for decades, when New Hampshire decided to move its primary up to Jan. 8, it was time for Michigan to take action. To these ears, it seemed that while Florida Dems had a legitimate defense in arguing that they had no opportunity to keep the primary from moving into January, the Wolverine Democrats simply acted out of pique. Levin, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and the state House all supported moving the primary into January. They could not use the "Republicans-made-us-do-it" defense.

Here's another dilemma about Michigan. The results of the Jan. 15 primary were Clinton 55 percent, "uncommitted" 40 percent. For all we know, Obama supporters in the state, with their candidate not on the ballot, may have voted for the uncommitted slate, may have crossed over and voted in the GOP primary, or may have simply stayed home. There's no way to be sure.

And therein lies the argument between the Obama and Clinton forces as the rules committee was deciding how to divide the delegates. The Obama camp says to legitimize the primary is ridiculous, since the DNC itself said the results wouldn't count, and thus he took his name off the ballot. The Clinton camp said that, if the rules folks were going to reinstate half the delegates, even on the 55-40 percent ratio, they had no business awarding the uncommitted delegates to Obama, since he wasn't even on the ballot.

The result was billed as a compromise. But the Clinton people saw it as a crushing defeat. The rules committee decided that all the delegates in both states could be seated, but they would each get a half vote at the convention — in effect, reducing its penalty of taking away all the states' delegates by half. The decision gave Clinton a 69-59 advantage in delegates in Michigan, but at a half-vote each, it came down to 34.5 delegates for Clinton, 29.5 delegates for Obama — a difference of just five. Clinton was awarded 19 additional delegates from Florida.

So when all was said and done, the senator from New York emerged from Michigan and Florida with a net gain of 24 delegates — far less than she was hoping for, and certainly not much of a help in her bid to surpass Obama in delegates. She still trails by some 170 delegates or so. (The inclusion of Michigan and Florida delegates means the magic number for the nomination has been upped from 2,026 to 2,118.)

When the vote was announced, there was a chorus of boos and catcalls from Clinton supporters in the room. Ickes, whose disgust for the process was evident all day, ended his comments by announcing that Clinton had instructed him to "reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee" — an announcement that brought loud, repetitive chants of "Denver! Denver!" from her supporters, meaning they could theoretically carry on their protest to the national convention in late August.

The anger of Clinton supporters that was simmering all throughout the meeting burst into the open following the conclusion of the meeting, with tears, threats and anger visible for quite some time. Things may calm down over time, but the party looked more fractured on Saturday evening than I had seen it in years.

The obvious question: Will this dispute continue into the summer and to the credentials committee?

First things first. Clinton, as expected, won a huge primary victory Sunday in Puerto Rico. Obama is expected to triumph in the nation's final two primaries, in Montana and South Dakota, on Tuesday. By that day or the next, with the expected push from superdelegates, Obama could go over the top.

And then Clinton will have to make a decision: whether to stay in the race, take her fight to the remaining superdelegates or beyond — to the credentials committee or the convention floor — or face reality and decide that the good fight is over.

Meanwhile, here are some readers' comments:

Jeffery Ewener, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: "Now that Harold Ickes has decided that what he voted for last fall was unacceptable, and Clinton appears to be planning to go as far as she possibly can with her absurd claims, I've got to ask: What is Clinton going for? I can only see one possibility. It's to undermine Obama's chances in November, to present an image of party disunity, to force the superdelegates to be the deciding factor — thereby creating an opportunity later to say she was robbed (the stab-in-the-back strategy — and hopefully, to get John McCain elected). Then, after four years of what there is a good chance of being a calamitous McCain presidency, she runs again. And pundits will shake their heads admiringly and talk about her determination and will-to-win."

Howard Rechtmann, Davie, Fla.: "We all know, despite the good front, Hillary is pissed. She could threaten the nuclear option and run as an independent in November, thus assuring Obama's loss if the delegates do not give her the nod."

Steve Sulkin, Lincolnshire, Ill.: "You mention in your May 29 column that you think it is not the case that Clinton wanted to imply that Barack Obama may be assassinated when she was asked why she's staying in. At first I agreed with you. But when I hear Mrs. Clinton compare Michigan and Florida to Zimbabwe, to civil rights struggles and other unbelievable comments she has made to draw false comparisons so as to gain sympathy (in other words, lie), can we truly understand what is behind her motives? I come to these potential diagnoses because she has, without apparent concern, made up the most unbelievable fantasies (the sniper fire in Bosnia episode, for example) that brazenly defy the facts. And she touts them with apparently no fear that she'll be caught."

D. Silverman, Southfield, Mich.: "How can any American vote for a political neophyte? I do not believe that Obama can win due to the still below-the-surface racism in this country. I will not vote for him for president, though I will support the rest of the Democratic ticket. Under no circumstances will I cast my vote for John McCain."

Matt Weber, Ann Arbor, Mich.: "Why should I, as a Michigan resident, care if the delegation actually gets seated? Everyone seems to agree that Obama will be the nominee even if Michigan's delegation were to be seated in full. So seating the delegation doesn't really feel like it's empowering me as a Michigan voter, or even making my vote count. Instead, the push to actually seat the delegates feels more like a push to give a bunch of people tickets to a four-day party at the national convention. Is there some opportunity at the convention for delegates to raise issues that are particularly important to Michigan — e.g., help for people in manufacturing jobs, protection of Great Lakes waters, etc.? In other words, is there any real truth to the claim that Clinton is fighting to get Michigan's voice heard, or is it just empty rhetoric trumped up to cover an entirely self-serving effort?"

Anna Webb, Pikeville, Ky.: "This is to inform you that if Hillary Clinton does not get the nomination, and Florida and Michigan are not fully seated, then I, a staunch Democrat, will be voting (along with everyone I know) for John McCain in the general election. I think Hillary has been treated most unfairly. She should be the one who should have the nomination because she is the only one who can beat McCain. The people from Kentucky and West Virginia will vote for McCain."

Now, some time for questions:

Q: In your May 29 column, you wrote that only two senators — Kennedy and Harding — were elected to the presidency. Wasn't Lyndon Johnson also in the Senate? — George McAfee, Catonsville, Md.

A: The question was about sitting senators going directly to the White House. LBJ was vice president — and a FORMER senator — when the shots rang out in 1963 and he was sent to the White House. Richard Nixon and Harry Truman also had served in the Senate before assuming the presidency, but Nixon was out of office when he was elected in 1968, and Truman was vice president when Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered his fatal cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.

Q: Just reading an old column from last year for the first time, and someone asked about a potential Fred Thompson versus Al Gore match-up for president and how they held the same Senate seat. You said that it echoed 1972, when Hubert Humphrey ran against his Minnesota predecessor, Eugene McCarthy, but that's not correct. They were in the Senate together, from 1959 until Humphrey became vice president in '65. — Andrew Countis, Medford, Mass.

A: That's partially true. McCarthy decided not to seek a third term in 1970, and Humphrey — two years after his defeat to Richard Nixon — ran for McCarthy's Senate seat and won it. He served until his death on Jan. 13, 1978.

JORDAN WRIGHT: We just heard the shocking news that Jordan Wright, a campaign items collector and longtime acquaintance who had just published a book on his collection — and who had been the subject of a huge profile recently in The New York Times — died May 11 of an embolism. A faithful reader of this column, Jordan was 50 years old.


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.

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******* 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: Former Navy Secretary John Connally, a conservative campaigning as a foe of many Kennedy administration proposals, wins the Texas Democratic gubernatorial primary runoff against Don Yarborough, a liberal, by a narrow margin (June 2, 1962). Gov. Price Daniel had finished a surprisingly poor third in the initial May primary.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: