March 07, 2008

Primary Causes

In the discussion over what to do about the Florida and Michigan delegates, I find sentences like this one infuriating:

In the contests in January, Mrs. Clinton prevailed in Florida by 50 percent to 33 percent over Mr. Obama. In Michigan, where Mr. Obama’s name was not on the ballot, Mrs. Clinton took 55 percent of the vote while “uncommitted” won 40 percent.

How are these statistics germane to anything? Including this information in an article about future solutions only muddies the discussion. Imagine the Times' sports section counting a home team's batting practice -- before the visitors showed up -- towards its score in the first inning.

And the language is astounding. Yes, Clinton "prevailed," in Florida, but only in a contest in which no major candidate was supposed to have campaigned. Mightn't her huge name recognition have worked to her advantage in Florida, a state with more than a few older residents who probably had fond memories of what now seems like our pre-Bush Utopia? Obama has been attracting high numbers of young and first-time voters, exactly the kinds of people who probably would have stayed home as soon as they realized their votes weren't going to matter when it came to awarding delegates. (Additionally, Florida's primary took place one week before Super Tuesday. Had it happened afterwards, the point spread between Clinton and Obama might have been smaller.)

And what of Michigan? Clinton "took" 55 percent of the vote in a contest in which her now-main rival for the nomination was not even on the ballot. Lest anyone think I'm a sour-grapes-ridden Obama supporter, if I were in the Clinton camp I wouldn't want anyone repeating that "uncommitted" still garnered 40 percent of the vote. And even more so than in Florida, how many Michiganders stayed home on their state's primary day once they realized that their candidate wasn't on the ballot?

There are lots of conflicting opinions about what to do next. Complete do-overs? Primaries instead of caucuses? Is taxpayer money used in a do-over or does it come from the DNC or private sources? All good questions to consider going forward that have absolutely nothing to do with meaningless results in January.

And now that Michigan and Florida have suddenly become crucial to deciding the Democratic nominee, there goes any punishment these states were supposed to receive for moving up their primaries -- and any leverage the DNC has in avoiding future scheduling disasters. Can you imagine the cluster f*ck this is going to open up in 2012? States will try to have their primaries whenever they want, pointing to this year's debacle as proof that you never know when you'll need every last delegate. "Punish us for having our primary on January 1, 2012? What are you going to do about it? Not seat our delegates?"

Posted by Doug at March 7, 2008 11:45 AM