Starting Gate: Dean's Law

(CBS)
Now that the Democratic National Committee has gotten its party into this mess, they seem not to want to do much to help get out of it. Florida and Michigan had the temerity to break "party rules" by moving their primary contests ahead of the window prescribed by both major parties. Because they did so, the DNC gave their state parties the equivalent of a primary death penalty, stripping them of all their delegates to the national convention.

Florida and Michigan also broke Republican party rules on the calendar, as did Wyoming, New Hampshire and South Carolina (Iowa did not because their contests did not award delegates). They were punished as well -- by being stripped of half their delegates. In other words, those contests counted, the Republican race is now essentially over and the Democrats are trying to figure a way out of this mess.

Whatever can go wrong will and unintended consequences will be larger than intended ones – call the combination Dean's Law. And now that it's been put into effect, where do Democrats go from here?

Both Clinton and Obama have strong arguments in the fight. Clinton, who won both states, can point to the millions of voters who participated in the Democratic primaries and question whether they deserve to be disenfranchised from the process. In Florida, where no direct campaigning occurred and where 1.7 million people voted in the primary, it's a strong argument. It's kind of hard to say they weren't paying attention to the race just because nobody ran ads directly aimed at the state. It falls flat in regards to Michigan, however, because Clinton was the only major contender to keep her name on the ballot there.

Obama, just as strongly, argues that the rules were the rules and they can't simply be changed in the middle of the process. He's shown the ability to close the gap with Clinton whenever he campaigns in a state and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't have done better than the 33 percent he got in Florida in January. To simply allocate delegates in proportion to those results would be gaming the system in hindsight.

At the time the DNC decided to strip the delegates, it was assumed that the race would be over by this point in time but now that it looks likely to go the distance – and maybe beyond – what is the answer? Some sort of re-vote appears probable but nobody wants to pay for them, especially expensive statewide primaries. Holding caucuses instead would not be a popular move for the Clinton camp because Obama has proven that's good territory for his organization and it tamps down participation, plus they've already won primaries in those states.

Or we could wait until the convention to find out whether and in what proportions those state's delegates might be seated by the credentials committee. When Dean's Law is applied, there are no easy – or good – answers.

Maybe They Can Settle It "Thunderdome" Style: If Michigan and Florida do end up holding new contests at the end of this process, they could resemble scenes from a Mad Max movie. Fatigue and irritability appears to be setting in and it's leading to a sharp escalation in the rhetoric.

First up came the comment from Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson on a conference call with reporters. Pushing back at the Obama campaign on the issue of experience, Wolfson went so far as to compare Obama to Kenneth Starr. "When Sen. Obama was confronted with questions over whether he was ready to be commander in chief and steward of the economy, he chose not to address those questions, but to attack Sen. Clinton," Wolfson said. "I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president."

Not to be outdone, Obama adviser Samantha Power called Clinton "a monster" in an interview with the Scotsman newspaper. "She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Despite her contention that the remark was "off the record," the reporter said the ground rules for the interview were on the record and her attempt to revise that midstream was not justified. Power later apologized.

On The Backroads: Bill Clinton is spending a lot of time these days helping to woo super delegates to his wife's campaign, likely trying to cash in on some political favors he's gathered over the years. But he remains a surrogate on the campaign trial, if a less visible one. The former president was in Wyoming yesterday ahead of that state's caucuses tomorrow and was preaching the virtues of clean coal. "Some environmentalists don't think we ought to be doing anything with coal, but they're wrong. Think about it, you could become, maybe, the first totally energy-independent state in the United States."

Around The Track

  • Comedian/actor Larry David blogs at the Huffington Post that he had been sympathetic to Hillary Clinton's campaign until he saw the "red phone" ad. "Suddenly, I realized the last thing this country needs is that woman anywhere near a phone. I don't care if it's 3 a.m. or 10 p.m. or any other time. I don't want her talking to Putin, I don't want her talking to Kim Jong Il, I don't want her talking to my nephew."
  • Obama's name was mentioned in the opening statements of Chicago developer Tony Rezko's trial, the Politico reports.
  • As of yesterday afternoon, 41 percent of the precincts had reported results of the Texas caucuses and Obama had a 56 percent to 44 percent lead over Clinton, according to the AP.
  • Ron Paul has a concession speech of. In a video to supporters, Paul says, "though victory in the conventional political sense is not available in the presidential race, many victories have been achieved due to your hard work and enthusiasm."