When the movers and shakers of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party got together in Washington last year for their annual conference, attendees were stunned by breaking news: New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg had just announced he would shed his GOP registration. Many lamented that the mayor appeared on a path to a third-party presidential run and would create a Ralph Nader spoiler scenario again for Dems in 2008.
The Bloomberg fear has passed--he's since stopped making noise about a run. And today the 2,000 activists at this year's "Take Back America" gathering--started six years ago by about 150 self-described liberal and progressive Democrats who wanted a louder voice in their party--overwhelmingly named Sen. Barack Obama as their favorite in the race for the Democratic nomination, according to straw poll results announced this afternoon.
Though the poll showed that progressives have united around Obama, it also revealed vexing issues the party has to contend with going into the presidential election: an increasingly long and bitter fight between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, lingering antipathy toward Clinton, the fracas over whether to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, and the likelihood that party superdelegates will decide the nomination.
A sobering 41 percent of the 413 conventioneers who participated in the straw poll said they would feel "dissatisfied" if Clinton were the nominee, compared with 86 percent who said an Obama candidacy would satisfy them. Seventy-two percent said they would most like to see Obama as the party's nominee, and 69 percent believed that Obama had a better shot at defeating presumed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain in the fall.
But on the issue of superdelegates deciding the race at the fall convention, the progressives were much more divided. One quarter said the superdelegates should vote for the candidate they believe has the best chance to win in November, one quarter said the votes should go to the candidate leading in the national pledged delegate count (those chosen by caucus or primary), and one quarter said the candidate with the highest overall popular vote tally should win the superdelegates' support. Nineteen percent said superdelegates should vote for the candidate who received the most delegates in their state's primary or caucus.
Their split reflects an ongoing debate within the party--and between the Obama and Clinton campaigns--over the proper role for superdelegates, a collection of 795 (not including Michigan and Florida) party officials, elected leaders, and grand Democratic eminences. Obama currently leads among the pledged delegate and in the popular vote count; Clinton leads in committed superdelegates, though more than 330 are still up for grabs. And superdelegates already committed are free to switch candidates.
Finally, the poll showed that half of the progressives would like to see Michigan and Florida hold new primary contests--a desire that appears all but hopeless. And that just about guarantees a floor fight in Denver in September when those states, stripped of delegates by the national party for holding their primaries too early, are expected to try to seat their delegates. No Bloomberg in the fall but a Democratic fight, no doubt, down to the wire.
By Liz Halloran