The outcome of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting won’t change the underlying dynamic of the Democratic race. But it could put an end to the looming controversy that has been the central focus of the past few weeks—what to do about Michigan and Florida.
When the 30 members of the RBC gather Saturday to hear and possibly decide on appeals to the party’s decision to strip those wayward states of all their delegates, they will be positioned to play a critical role in either hastening the end of the nominating race or extending it beyond June 3, when the final two states go to the polls.
As it stands, the RBC is in a quandary. If the sanctions hold, it could risk further alienating Democrats – especially Clinton supporters – in two big swing states. But some RBC members worry that seating Michigan and Florida with minimal punishment will diminish the party’s ability to keep states from jumping the primary calendar, which could either lead to an even more chaotic calendar fight four years from now – and possibly an Iowa caucus held as early as November 2011.
The Clinton campaign disagrees. “I don’t think any state in 2012 is going to want to go through what Michigan and Florida went though this year,” said Clinton supporter and RBC member Tina Flournoy in a Wednesday conference call.
Either way, one result seems likely Saturday: the “magic number” of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination will change from the current total of 2,026 delegates.
If the full Florida and Michigan delegations are seated, as the Clinton campaign has demanded, the new number will be 2,210—a figure that would require the frontrunning Obama to corral more superdelegate votes to reach the threshold, possibly adding a few more weeks to the primary endgame.
That outcome, however, seems highly unlikely. A DNC official recommendation published Wednesday warned that party rules left little room for a 100 percent reinstatement of delegates since the first 50 percent were automatic sanctions.
Nevertheless the Clinton campaign is pushing for a full reinstatement of both states’ delegations in accordance with the primary results, framing the matter as a voting rights issue.
"There is one number that we are going to be satisfied with, and that is 2.3 million people having their votes counted," said Flournoy said Wednesday on a conference call.
The Obama campaign, which views the fight as a distraction from the general election campaign as much as anything else, has tacitly suggested this week that they would be content with a solution that seats the delegations at half strength.
“Any compromise is clearly going to benefit Clinton but we’re willing to seat some delegates here,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Wednesday.
Some Clinton supporters on the committee also seemed open to a middle ground where Michigan and Florida still receive a penalty, but see some number of delegates seated.
“I support a solution that will seat both states with significant voting power at the convention – whether that means they are seated with full power or whether there is some understanding they have to suffer some penalty for failing to comply with the rules, I’m not sure yet,” said Michael Steed, an RBC member and Clinton supporter.
The Florida appeal will be heard first at the committee meeting, which takes place at the Woodley Park Marriott in Washington.
After DNC Chairman Howard Dean opens the proceedings with brief remarks, the committee will hear from DNC member Jon Ausman, who is presenting Florida’s appeal. Senator Bill Nelson will speak on behalf of the state party, and state Senator Arthenia Joyner will speak on behalf of the Clinton campaign. Florida Congressman Robert Wexler will speak for the Obama campaign.
Michigan will follow State party chair and RBC member Mark Brewer will present, Senator Carl Levin will speak on behalf of the party, former Governor Jim Blanchard will speak on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and former Congressman (and John Edwards campaign manager) David Bonior will speak for the Obama campaign.
After hearing the appeals, the committee will break for lunch--they will eat privately—before deliberating. The RBC is expected to come to a decision by the end of the day, although committee members have been told to avoid making their plane reservations for Sunday morning.
The Florida and Michigan petitions are markedly different.
Ausman’s appeal argues that the DNC cannot take away more than 50 percent of the state’s pledged delegates and requests that they be seated in accordance with the Jan. 29 primary results. While the Florida state party has not endorsed his position, they have been sending out press releases over the past few days intended to remind reporters and DNC members that Florida has already begun its delegate selection process.
The Michigan appeal is based on a compromise hashed out by four of the most powerful Democrats in the state—it asks the DNC to reinstate the delegation at full strength. Because Obama didn’t appear on the ballot, it proposes a compromise that allocates 69 delegates to Clinton and 59 to Obama – halfway between a 50/50 split and the results of the state’s Jan. 15 primary, where Clinton defeated “uncommitted.”