Runs High for Democrats
by Gene Lyons
Here are the numbers that make Democrats optimistic about running the table
come November, regaining the White House and controlling both houses of
Congress: On "Super Tuesday," 15,417,521 citizens voted in Democratic primaries,
versus 9,181,297 who participated in Republican contests.
The proportions have remained like that since January, with Democrats outpolling
Republicans by 3 to 2 or better nationwide. We appear to be headed toward
a paradigm-changing election like 1932, with Republicans relegated to secondary
status. Reading the tea leaves, many GOP congressmen have announced their
retirement, scrambling for K Street lobbying firms ahead of the rush.
It couldn't happen to a more deserving party. Fourteen years after Newt
Gingrich's "Contract with America," we've seen the consequences of conservative
dogma in action: disastrous wars, authoritarian lawlessness, staggering
corruption in Washington and Baghdad alike, growing budget deficits, and
repeated episodes of massive financial fraud.
But can Democrats screw up the presidential contest anyway? Many are starting
to think so. The possibility that neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. Hillary
Clinton will win enough delegates to lock up the nomination before the
August convention has tensions running high. The prospect of so-called
"superdelegates," i.e. senators, congressmen and other Democratic office-holders,
deciding the nominee has led to great anxiety, particularly among Obama
If party rules aren't interpreted to their satisfaction, some say they'll
quit the game, take their ball and go home. Longtime Democratic operative
Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 campaign, has announced that
if "superdelegates" settle the contest, she'll abandon the party.
Writing in his influential Open Left weblog, Chris Bowers warns, "[i]f
someone is nominated for POTUS from the Democratic Party despite another
candidate receiving more popular support from Democratic primary voters
and caucus goers, I will resign as local precinct captain, resign my seat
on the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, immediately cease all fundraising
for all Democrats, refuse to endorse the Democratic 'nominee' and otherwise
disengage from the Democratic Party."
Several things must be said. First, everybody making such threats needs
to take a deep breath and calm down. This isn't about you, your hurt feelings,
or your pure, unsullied idealism. It's about the future of our country.
Any Democrat who can't concede that either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama would
be an enormous improvement over President Bush or the bellicose, irascible
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, has no business participating
in politics to begin with.
Second, a deadlocked convention ain't likely to happen. History shows that
these theoretical trainwrecks rarely occur, although the memory of the
2000 Florida debacle can't help but provoke unease. Chances are the voters
will decide the issue between now and the April 4 Pennsylvania primary,
Third, and this is the tricky part, how exactly would one go about determining,
assuming neither candidate wins a clear majority during the primaries,
which one most Democrats favor? Given the hodgepodge of procedures in place
across the country, it won't be easy.
"[W]ho decides what the popular will is anyway?" asks Kevin Drum in his
influential Washington Monthly weblog. "Is it number of pledged delegates
from the state contests? Total popular vote? Total number of states won?
What about uncommitted delegates from primary states? Or caucus states,
in which there's no popular vote to consult and delegates are selected
in a decidedly nondemocratic fashion to begin with? And what about all
the independent and crossover voters?"
As I write, Obama has won eleven caucuses and nine primaries. Caucuses
clearly discriminate in favor of wealthier, better-educated voters, not
necessarily those with most at stake or most critical to Democratic chances.
A number of his caucus victories have been achieved in small states such
as North Dakota, Utah and Nebraska, which Democrats have basically zero
chance of winning. Several primary wins (South Carolina, Alabama) have
also come in places Democrats won't carry come November.
With the obvious exception of Illinois, Obama's home state, the higher
the turnout and the bigger the state (California, New York, New Jersey,
Massachusetts), the more likely Clinton is to have won it. This leads many
political professionals to see her as the stronger candidate come November,
the Woodstock-like zeal of Obama's supporters notwithstanding. An amateur,
I see him as the second-coming of Adlai Stevenson, another high-minded
orator from Illinois who made Democrats feel superior while losing.
Then there's the ticklish matter of Florida and Michigan. Yes, they broke
party rules. (In Florida's case, a GOP legislature made them.) Together,
though, they constitute roughly ten percent of the nation's population.
Is it sensible or fair to disenfranchise them? Both states are crucial
to Democratic hopes. With neither candidate campaigning, Clinton prevailed
easily in Florida. Likewise, Obama's withdrawl from Michigan may have been
tactically clever, given the demographics.
None of these dilemmas have easy or obvious solutions. Anybody who thinks
they do may as well go home now.
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