On Saturday, the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will try to solve a big problem, in order to avoid a huge problem in order to prevent a train wreck.
The big problem is what to do about Michigan and Florida, two states stripped last year of their delegates to the Democratic National Convention because both broke party rules and moved their primaries up too early in the election year.
The rules committee will try to work out a compromise Saturday to try to seat those states in some form or fashion. It will be difficult, and the 30 members of the committee, who come from all over the nation, have been warned to keep their hotel rooms Saturday night, because the meeting may go into Sunday.
The huge problem is what happens if one side or another does not like the rules committee’s compromise. In that case, the controversy would go to the 186-member Credentials Committee, which will convene in July or August.
And if that happens, the party will be presented with a possible train wreck: Whatever the Credentials Committee decides will have to be voted on by the Convention in late August as its first order of business. And this could create what the media might love but the party dreads: a floor fight in Denver.
I am reliably informed that the two co-chairs of the rules committee, Alexis Herman and James Roosevelt Jr., have been working with the Obama and Clinton campaigns to try to work out a compromise that would settle the matter at this weekend’s meeting and avoid further bloodletting.
But finding a solution will not be easy, and one reason is that there are so many competing agendas.
First, both Michigan and Florida have mounted furious public campaigns to get their punishment lifted, saying the party really has no choice if the Democratic nominee wants to win those states in November.
Second, there is the Clinton campaign, which sees the rules committee meeting as its last, best hope to gain significant ground on Obama.
Third, there is the Obama campaign, which does not want to see the gains it has made in primaries and caucuses overturned by a committee vote.
Then, and most overlooked, is the agenda of the committee itself. It is a rules committee, its members believe in rules and that rules must be enforced, even as political realities are addressed.
There is a further complication: Not only does the rules committee have to decide what percentage of the Florida and Michigan delegations to seat (the options run from zero to 100 percent), but what percentage Clinton gets and what percentage Obama gets. Clinton “won” both states, but the contests were controversial: She was the only major candidate on the ballot in Michigan, and everybody agreed not to campaign in Florida.
Here is a sampling of comments from rules committee members I interviewed Tuesday.
DON FOWLER, South Carolina, committed to Clinton: “A solution I think acceptable to both states is to seat the full delegations, with each delegate getting a half-vote.
“I would be inclined to go for it. I would listen very carefully to what the Clinton campaign wants, but I do not turn over my heart and soul to them. I observe some limitations.
“There are a lot of questions that go beyond the mere politics of whether this helps Hillary or does this hurt Obama. The integrity of the process is involved here. If we meet this weekend and we act like a bunch of Katzenjammer Kids and throw things at each other, even if we reach a solution, that is going to make us look bad.
“I am told the place [the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC] is going to be packed with supporters of the two campaigns. I have a great apprehension that we are going to look like a bunch of people who can only holler and scream and can’t do what is right for the party.”
RALPH . DAWSON, New York, uncommitted: “We’ve got to try to fashion a solution that takes into account not only the people who voted in Florida and Michigan, but the people in the states that followed the rules.
“By and large the Clinton people say they are for seating all the delegates based on the beauty contests that were held in Florida and Michigan. The people representing Sen. Obama have indicated they believe the fair way to do this under the circumstances is to split the delegations 50-50, since those weren’t real races.
“I am not prejudging the matter. We have to have a solution where the integrity of the process remains. We have to have a process in which all of the states feel the rules have been fairly administered.”
ALICE GERMOND, West Virginia, uncommitted: “Unfortunately, we have been brought to seeming chaos, but I am not sure that the situation is as chaotic as some would like to make it. There are some thoughtful people here who believe what we do Saturday will impact whether we have real chaos in 2012.
“We are grappling with a solution that is fair to both candidates and to the 48 states that abided by the rules. We also want to reach out to the voters of Florida and Michigan who did not cause these troubles. I anticipate that we will have a convention that seats all 50 states.
“What is really unfortunate is that here it is the end of May, and we are talking about the process instead of John McCain.”
ALLAN KATZ, Florida, committed to Obama: “I think there will be some kind of compromise that seats Florida and Michigan in the 50 percent range. Florida and Michigan both violated the rules, that is a fact and because of that there has to be some kind of penalty.
“I think a 50-50 split of the delegates would be fair. The contests were beauty contests and not about selecting delegates. However, having said that, the reality is that we live in a political world and so there may be some apportionment of delegates that favors Clinton over Obama, but not one that changes the outcome of the race.
“Whatever happens Saturday, I think everybody will be a little unhappy. Which probably means it will be the right solution.”