Clinton's Opposition to Revotes

The debate continues about the legitimacy of Clinton's current position that the DNC-imposed penalty on Florida and Michigan is "disenfranchisement" akin to barring women and African-Americans from voting.  

Clinton, of course, did not publicly oppose the penalty until long after the decision was made.  Indeed, other than some mild and frankly vague comments in a New Hampshire radio interview (right after she famously said the Michigan contest "would not count"), I am unaware of any public statement by Clinton or her campaign against the penalty until after the Iowa contest.   As the Florida journalist asked her the other day, "Where were you when we needed you"?  (She had no answer).

One possible explanation for this is that Clinton believed that the problem would be solved by a revote.  Some have even suggested that this has happened in the past (though I haven't seen evidence of that).  This explanation, however, faces a serious problem:   Clinton opposed revotes until at least mid March, about 2 month after Michigan and Florida's contests.

Take, for example, these two quotes:

"And I don't think that there should be any do-over or any kind of a second run in Florida. I think Florida should be seated."(Hillary Clinton 3/6/08)

"Our position is that the voters of Michigan and Florida have spoken." (Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson 3/6/08)

Here's more.

If she believed that the penalty was disenfranchisement, was a serious moral issue, opposing revotes that would let the voters in FL and MI have their say would have simply been wrong.  But that's what she did.

Let me be perfectly clear here.  I am afraid that Clinton's overheated rhetoric on this issue is not based on genuine concern, but rather political calculation.  Moreover, I am concerned that her rhetoric is poisoning voters in ways far more severe than the DNC's penalty alone ever could -- and thus sabotaging the party in November.  And I hope that her supporters will see that this is happening and tone it down.

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Florida and Michigan: Which Is It?

Over time, HRC has now shifted to argue that the DNC-imposed penalty on Florida and Michigan is a great injustice akin to withholding the vote from women or African-Americans.

It cannot be disputed that Clinton agreed to the penalty, and until after her loss in Iowa, never said a single word to suggest it was wrong or improper.  Indeed, she was perhaps the most powerful individual in the party at the point when the decision was made, and if anyone was in a position to challenge the DNC on the penalty, it would have been her.  But she didn't.  She agreed to it without criticism.

I can see two possible explanations for her failure to speak up before about this "great injustice." One is that she has changed her view about it for some reason.  Scouring her speech today, she hasn't said what that reason is.  And if the penalty is a violation of such critical and closely held values, it is hard to see a solid explanation for what could have changed her view.

The other possible explanation is that she saw the issue, understood its significance, and believed it served her interests.  After all, she had a longstanding relationship with the voters in Florida and Michigan, and was the clear front-runner.  So, the theory goes, she accepted the penalty, knowing it would help her and probably wouldn't stick and the election would likely count.  Thus, she would benefit because her opponents could not campaign.  And now she's playing that card in a last-minute attempt to win the nomination.  Again, I'm not saying that's what happened, but that's the only other explanation I can see.

If those HRC supporters out there have a different explanation for these facts, I'd love to hear it.  But I don't think one exists.  And neither of the theories I've come up with is really consistent with her current harsh rhetoric.  And, frankly, I'm very concerned that this overheated rhetoric is going to hurt the party far more in November than the original penalty decision would have otherwise -- a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Finally, I understand that many people believe that somehow this is all Barack Obama's fault.  The penalty wasn't his idea.  And whatever might have happened with a possible revote -- setting aside that Clinton originally opposed them and that they were never really practical after she started supporting the idea -- it still doesn't answer the question of why Clinton supported the DNC penalty before and now claims it is a great injustice.

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How Bad Is Clinton's Financial Situation? Very Bad

The press and blogs are finally getting around to reporting that despite fairly impressive fundraising, Hillary Clinton's primary campaign is deep in the red. Since January, her campaign has been eating hand to mouth, spending more than it takes in and taking on increasing debts. Her campaign's primary election assets at this point are at least $1.5 million less than it owes to vendors, PLUS the $11.4 million the campaign owes Clinton herself. Moreover, since it is almost surely the case that her May fundraising has been worse than April, her debt situation is probably quite a bit worse than that. Her financial situation has deteriorated every month this year.

Clinton's cash on hand spendable in the primary is less than her outstanding debts, even excluding the $11.4 million she has loaned her campaign. She is in the red. But the picture is worse than that.

Look at the trend revealed below:

DatePrimary FundsVendor DebtsNet CashHRC DebtNet Position
End February$11.7M$8.7M$3M$5M-$2M
End March$9M$10.3M-$1.3$5M-$6.3M
End April$8M$9.5M-$1.5$10M-$11.5M
Now??????$11.4M??

We can only guess at how she's doing in May, but here's what we do know. We know she loaned her campaign at least $1.4 million more. We know that much of her fundraising (supposedly $10 million) in April came shortly after her win in Pennsylvania, and that pace obviously did not continue through the end of the month. We know Clinton has reported nothing about her fundraising successes in May, which suggests she's probably not doing as well.

This raises serious questions about Clinton's ability to meaningfully compete between now and the convention in August. Even assuming that, as Garin has said today, Clinton intends to push forward past June 3, what kind of candidate can she be sinking deeper into debt? Barack Obama, on the other hand, has a massive $37+ million primary war chest, ready to unleash on John McCain and starting turning his primary campaign into the best-ever general election apparatus that we should expect.[Ed Note: Obama's number updated]

The reality is that, absent some world-shattering event, Clinton will have no real choice but to bow out after the voting is over. If she resists, it will be time, for the good of the party, to start applying serious pressure -- which, to date, have been withheld.

Update

As a commenter notes, the TPM source says her cash on hand is only $6.7 million, while the AP says $8 million. If TPM is correct, then her current position is $1.3 million worse than the chart indicates.

Don't Leave; Your Country Needs You

Nomination fights within a party are hurtful because they make mountains out of molehills with regard to differences between the candidates and tend to overlook entirely the vast areas of agreement between them.  This long, difficult campaign is proof of it.

Now is a challenging time.  The contest is not over, but time is running out.  It is becoming increasingly clear who the victor will be.  And, in the end, someone must lose.  If my candidate were to lose, I would be frustrated and tempted to focus on all bad things that have happened in the campaign.  

Let me make this appeal:  In November, the country will make a decision between John McCain and a Democrat.  McCain will continue four years of George Bush policies, and may well be even more of a cowboy in foreign policy.  He will appoint one or more anti-choice Justices and may well lead to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Our country's future depends on defeating John McCain.  I understand that some of you don't like Barack Obama, and that many of you particularly don't like the tactics and statements of some of his ham-fisted supporters.  Many of you have reasonable doubts about Obama's experience and policies.  Fair enough.  But please, if you are considering walking away from the fight, take some time.  Give it some thought.  Give Barack a fair hearing, removed from this difficult family fight that is the primary season.  And, above all, consider the alternative.  

My daughter and son deserve better than a future tarred by another Republican in the White House.  My daughter deserves to come of age in a nation where choice is respected.  And so do your children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and everyone else.  I'm asking you to consider supporting the Democratic candidate and helping protect our county's future.

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Delegate Update: Obama's "Magic Number" Down to 65

Here is episode 3 of the countdown to finally ending this primary. The "magic number" is the number of delegates that either candidate needs, above those already earned and currently projected, to close this thing out.

Delegate "Magic Number" Tracker
(FL and MI Excluded)
ObamaClinton
Current Pledged Delegates14161253
Current Super Delegates228250
Total Delegates to Date16381501
Needed for Nomination386523
Projected Pledged Delegates272294
Projected Add-On Delegates3725
Pelosi Club6-1
Total Current and Projected Delegates19591821
"Magic Number"65203
% of Remaining SDs Needed25.1%78.4%

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Delegate "Magic Number" Tracker 4-11-08

Here is episode 2 of the countdown to finally ending this primary, now including projected add-on delegates.

Delegate "Magic Number" Tracker
(FL and MI Excluded)
ObamaClinton
Current Pledged Delegates14161253
Current Super Delegates222248
Total Delegates to Date16381501
Needed for Nomination386523
Projected Pledged Delegates270296
Projected Add-On Delegates3725
Pelosi Club6-1
Total Current and Projected Delegates19511821
"Magic Number"73203
% of Remaining SDs Needed28.2%78.4%

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Introducing the Delegate "Magic Number" Tracker

There are a lot of delegate counters out there.  Still, the unanswered question is "What needs to happen to have this nominating contest be officially over"? Here's my effort to track that. Further explanation and analysis is below the fold, plus a FL and MI included variant.

Delegate "Magic Number" Tracker (FL and MI Excluded)









ObamaClinton
Current Pledged Delegates14161253
Current Super Delegates222245
Total Delegates to Date16381498
Needed for Nomination386526
Projected Pledged Delegates270296
Pelosi Club6-1
Total Current and Projected Delegates19141793
"Magic Number"110231
% of Remaining SDs Needed34.3%72.0%

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Were the FL and MI contests truly fair?

A constant refrain in the increasingly bitter and unhelpful rancor over what to do about FL and MI is the suggestion that the contests in those states were full and fair elections.  This is a key premise in the HRC argument that not only should FL and MI delegates be seated, but they "must" be seated based exactly on the primaries conducted in those states. Today, for example, Phil Singer wrote to Politico that, "The votes that took place in Michigan and Florida were fine. They weren't beset by any problems and count even if the DNC isnt seating delegates at this point." (link:  http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0 408/How_to_count_the_votes.html)
The same point is made here repeatedly.

If you have an open mind at this point in the primary (and hopefully everyone should) please just consider the following points.

First, there was no local campaigning, voter registration, or get-out-the-vote efforts by either campaign in either state.  These are vital components of a full and fair election.  Imagine if Bush had used the DOJ to prevent Kerry from local campaigning, conducting voter registration, or using get-out-the-vote efforts in 2000?  Would any of you have said it was a fair election, even if the voting itself went relatively smoothly?  Of course not.

Second, the voters were told that there votes did not matter to the nomination.  Over and over, in the press, the folks in MI and FL were told that the contests would not count.  As a result, it is undeniably true that many folks who otherwise would have voted instead stayed home.  It's true there was a relatively high turnout in both states, but there are other reasons for that -- a big property tax issue in Florida, for example.  And no matter how high it was, it was still much lower than it would have been in a real contest.  

Third, these limitations on the elections impacted Obama much more than Clinton.  In virtually ever state that has voted, Obama starts in the polls with a huge deficit, and then closes the gap with local campaigning and organizing, voter registration, get-out-the-vote, and extensive advertising.  Clinton is well-know and well-liked among democrats, so she needs these things less.  

It is true that in Florida (but not Michigan), Obama had a few ads on the air as a result of spillover from national cable ad buys leading up to the Feb. 5 mega-primary.  But these ads were a fraction of what he's done in states where he's really campaigning.  And they absolutely did not make up for Clinton's name-recognition advantage.

Finally, of course, in Michigan Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot.  Clinton argues this was Obama's fault.  But she (like he) agreed not to "participate" in Michigan or Florda, and Obama (as well as Edwards, Richardson, and others) understood this to mean to get off the ballot where possible.  It was possible in MI but not FL, due to local rules.  And, as is well remarked, Clinton told the voters of New Hampshire, to court them, that the Michigan primary would not "count".  To use that MI contest against Obama in these circumstances is hardly Democratic.

I'm sympathetic to the loss of a meaningful vote for FL and MI.  But let's not overstretch and pretend that the contests that happened were full and fair elections.  The blame here lies with the FL and MI governments, who were line-jumping, and perhaps the DNC but not with Obama. And both sides should be open to a compromise that helps the party in November and treats both campaigns fairly.

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Chill Out on Michigan and Florida

The volume and pitch of the rhetoric about the "undemocratic" process and "disenfranchising" of Florida and Michigan by not seating delegates according to their primary votes is hitting a level that will seriously undermine our chances in November.  As Bill says, please chill out.

I'll start from three propositions that we should all agree on:  neither campaign is the original cause of the penalty; both campaigns should bear some of the blame for the fact that revotes aren't going to happen; and there are legitimate concerns about the fairness of the FL and MI contests that did happen.   I then argue that the political ramifications of the treatment of these elections is something we can and should limit, by toning down our rhetoric on the subject.  

First, neither Obama nor Clinton had much of anything to do with the decision to penalize Florida or Michigan.  It was the Democratic Party's decision.  Both campaigns agreed to it, and also agreed not to "participate" in either contest.  The reason was so that the DNC would have some control over the scheduling of the nominating contests, and most everyone agrees that's an important goal.

Second, both Obama and Clinton have blame for the failure of FL and MI to revote. There were big challenges to revotes in either state -- practically and politically.  If both campaigns worked the issue hard from the very beginning, those issues probably could have been overcome.  But that didn't happen.  Clinton didn't say word one about this issue until it was clear that she needed the delegates to win.  She did not push hard for revotes until quite late in the process.  She vetoed caucuses altogether (though they were much more practical, since they are party-run, don't necessarily require legislative approval, and are much cheaper).  For Obama's part, he could have done more to fight for revotes, and I wish he had - though the idea that he blocked them is overstated and unsupported by the evidence.  Don't forget that the Florida primary by mail plan -- the only really realistic non-caucus option at the last minute -- was shot down by the entire Congressional delegation, including HRC supporters.  And similarly, Michigan's Republicans (seeing the political benefits) likewise were blocking a second primary there.  

Third, there are legitimate concerns about seating delegates based on the the FL and MI contests.  The rules were set beforehand and both campaigns agreed to them.  Changing the rules now would seriously hamper any efforts by the DNC to control the schedule in future years, since all states and candidates would know that likely any penalty won't be enforced.  There are also legitimate fairness concerns about these contests.  Obama's name (like Edwards, Richardson, and others) was not on the MI ballot.  Many of his supporters did not bother to turn out to vote "uncommitted." That vote is not a real measure (particularly if, as HRC's folks sometimes suggest, Obama doesn't get any of the "uncommitted" delegates). As to both Michigan and Florida, a working democracy requires more than a vote; it requires a real contest leading up to it.  Here, neither campaign was able to organize or advertise locally, campaign locally, encourage voter turnout, or otherwise do the things campaigns do.  A reasonable observer has to admit that these factors favored Clinton over Obama, because she is so well known and well liked in the party.  The evidence of that can be found in nearly every contest, where Obama starts out from far behind in the polls and narrows (if not overcomes) the gap over time with campaigning, advertising, and local organizing.   I'm not asking you to agree that the delegations should not be counted.  But please just pause and acknowledge that there are two sides to this issue, and it is not as clear as "the votes must be counted!!!"

Here's my ultimate point:  given all of this, the overheated rhetoric about Florida and Michigan needs to be toned down.  It's a decision the party made, and the more its attacked in such harsh terms in public, the more that the party's reputation will be tarnished.  That will hurt either candidate in the fall, in two states we all agree are important, if not elsewhere.  

We have already hurt ourselves on this issue, by imposing the penalty in the first place, and by the rhetoric to date.  But the more we yell about it in such over-the-top terms, the more impact it is going to have.  I'm not suggesting we can't advocate on this issue.  But please, for goodness sakes, be reasonable in considering flexible ways to resolve this problem that are good for the party and are fair to the candidates.  Charges of "disenfranchisement" and "anti-democratic" action don't help at all.  They will only come back to bite us in the butt in November.  

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Riddle Me This, Batman (Michigan and Florida)

I see a lot of righteous fire from Hillary Clinton supporters about the Michigan and Florida situation, laying a lot of blame on Obama.  And if Obama does something to prevent revotes, it's a fair criticism.  

At present, that doesn't appear to be the case at present.  Florida fell through for practical and legal reasons entirely independent from Obama (indeed, the whole Congressional delegation -- Clinton supporters included -- came out against the mail-in vote, which was the only really practical option).  In Michigan, the situation has yet to be resolved.  I see a lot of heat from the Clinton campaign that Obama is to blame, but on today's call, Ickes was completely unable to identify any real facts about anything Obama has done to stand in the way.  Moreover, it appears GOP opposition may be insurmountable, and you can't blame Barack for that.  All that said, if a Michigan revote is possible but falls apart because of Obama, I completely agree that's blameworthy.  As of yet, though, those aren't the facts.

The facts, at present, is that Clinton is hurling charges of disenfranchisement that almost certainly will come back to hurt the party if there is no revote -- and even if there is.  Yet this situation did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus.  The penalties against Michigan and Florida were set months ago, and Clinton agreed (as did all the other candidates) not to "participate" in those contests.  Harold Ickes voted for them, and he has expressly defended his decision, on the ground that the DNC needed to reign in states that were jumping too early.  And, like any organization (or any parent!) if it doesn't enforce the rules this time, then in the future the rules will be meaningless.

My question is this:  If this situation is disenfranchisement, and if it represents an injustice, and if it represents such a threat to the democrats chances in November, why didn't Clinton speak out on this before her loss in South Carolina?  If there was any single person in the party who was really in a position to challenge the DNC and let Florida and Michigan vote early in permitted contests, it was her.  And similarly, why did Ickes vote to put this situation in place if its such bad general election strategy, as he now claims?

Maybe there is a good reason.  If so, I'd love to hear it.  But without such an explanation, isn't there a real concern about her tactics here?

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