Efforts to conduct new primaries in Florida and Michigan have collapsed. During the roundtable on the Diane Rehm show that follows, a Democratic governor, a political analyst, and a Democratic strategist discuss how the Democratic Party will resolve this issue, and evaluate new proposal that would persuade super delegates to vote in their own primary ahead of this summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report
Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-TN), serving his second term as Tennessee's governor.
Tad Devine, political consultant; senior strategist to the 2004 Kerry campaign and to the 2000 Gore campaign; director of delegate selection in the 1988 Dukakis campaign.
Diane Rehm: …With just 29 days to go to the primary in Pennsylvania, Democrats are nowhere closer to choosing their presidential nominee. Fears are now growing among party leaders of a protracted and divisive fight that could go all the way to the convention. A new proposal being floated would call for the super delegates to vote in a separate primary after the 10 remaining contests in June. The goal would be to settle on a presidential nominee ahead of the Denver convention this summer. … Governor Bredesen, you wrote in the New York Times on March 19 that Democrats have a problem, one that you believe can be fixed. Talk about your proposal and how it would work.
Governor Phil Bredesen: I think the problem is self-evident. If we go into late August, we’re looking at a summer of – first of all – lost opportunities to put a Democratic agenda forward, and certainly a very divisive summer that leaves us, come Labor Day, with quite possibly a nominee but with a divided and emotionally distraught party. If ultimately it comes down to the super delegates – which is what it’s starting to look like – I think there’s no reason that the super delegates should not, in June, get on the record and see if we cannot decide on someone to be the party’s nominee. I think the way to do that, as a practical matter, is to literally call them together – call the undecided ones together. Not some big convention with all the hoopla and side shows, but a short business meeting to maybe listen to the candidates and see if we can’t decide on someone. I think ultimately it’s going to take something like that. It’s like herding cats. Actually, with politicians, it’s like herding tomcats! I think some time and some place certain that we can come together and decide really could put is in a much better position to win in the fall, which I’d want us to do.
DR: So, of these 795 super delegates, over 40% have not yet announced (including yourself!). You would invite just those 40%?
PB: I think you would, as a matter, have to invite all of the super delegates to be fair. Certainly there is not anyone who’s committed ... there’s no legal obligation that they can’t change their minds and decided to become uncommitted. Whatever. I think a number of them would come if only to work the room! And certainly others might feel that they’d made their choice and this was not something they needed to do. But I think it’s something that could break the logjam and put us in position …
DR: Tad Devine, what do you think of this proposal?
Tad Devine: I think it’s a very good idea. The governor has first of all come forth and shown the kind of leadership we want to see from our party leaders. It’s true that this nomination will be decided by the super delegates. And I think we need a mechanism for closure. What the governor is talking about is a mechanism where, well in advance of the convention, we could find closure around a nominee in a process which would be open and transparent and ultimate very good for our party.
DR: And Stuart Rothenberg. What’s your view?
Stuart Rothenerg: Well, I think it’s a reasonable approach to a problem that we all see which is that the longer the fight goes on, the more personal it gets, the more bitter and angrier and more divisive. The question is whether a meeting of all these delegates might not be seen by some Democratic activists as the insiders – the super delegates – trying to impose their decision on the Democratic party. You could also have these uncommitted super delegates simply declare themselves between now and the end of August…
DR: How would you do that? Are you saying they’d be forced to…?
SR: No, no. I think even the governor is saying he can’t forced anybody to do it. You just want to provide a mechanism, a vehicle. You want everybody to put their cards on the table at some point so the Democratic party can take one big sigh and say, “Okay, we know who our nominee is. Now let’s move on…” And whether it’s the governor’s proposal or simply having some of the big wigs. When we were talking earlier, I suggested maybe the governors who haven’t declared -- and Al Gore hasn’t declare -- all come out publicly and say, “We’re going to state our position and we think all the super delegates who haven’t declared could do it now. We’re bringing our prestige and stature. It’s time. Let’s just do it.” So that’s another way of doing it, but I generally agree with the governor’s approach, which is, “Let’s get these cards on the table.”
DR: Do you agree with Tad Devine, Stuart, that in fact the super delegates are going to make the choice?
SR: Oh, yes, I think everybody agrees to that. There simply are not enough pledged delegates left to be chosen who will go one way or the other. If you had the Republican rules and it was winner take all in a state, that would change things. But you know that the two contestants, Senators Clinton and Obama, are each going to get a significant chunk of the vote of all the remaining primaries. They’re going to essentially divide up the delegates. Some will get more delegates and some will get fewer, but nobody’s going to get enough. And yes, the super delegates are going to decide it.
DR: Governor Bredeson, what do you think the party should do about Michigan and Florida?
GB: Well, we ought to do a piece on that in another week or two here! But it’s hard for me to imagine having a convention without them being represented in some fashion. I hope we can find some way to do that. I certainly think the super delegates, for example, ought to be seated from those. And I think some negotiated solution for the rest is appropriate.
TD: We have to find a solution to Michigan and Florida. The Democrats cannot win the presidency without Michigan. And the Republicans, I don’t think, can win the presidency without Florida. So these are two critical states to both sides. I think what we have to do is recognize that this problem has developed and a solution which would work in the real world is for us to say, politically, we’re going to do what the Republicans did. We’re going to recognize half the delegates from those states. Now, if a negotiated solution like that were to occur, and instead of Florida getting full delegate votes they get half delegate votes, Hillary Clinton’s margin would be cut in half and instead of a 38-delegate advantage she’d be down to 19. They could probably get it lower than that if they really wanted to. And I think what we’re talking about is really a handful of delegates – maybe 20 or 30 delegates – in total difference if we just negotiate a solution to the problems in these two states. That’s what we should do. And if we do that soon and get this behind us, instead of talking about process but start to talk about issues like the economy, like the war in Iraq, like healthcare – and when we do that, voters are going to listen because that’s the debate they want.
SR: I think they should revote. I really do.
DR: You think both Michigan and Florida …?
SR: … I don’t think you can seat the delegates that were selected because the DNC had said these weren’t going to count. At least in one case not all the candidates were on the ballot. I think you can raise outside funds. I think the June 10th deadline could be waived. It’s an artificial deadline. You could have these contests, if you wanted, later in the month. I know there’s a cost. Certainly in the case of Florida, the Republicans passed the bill in the legislature. They were the ones who set the date of the primary. So why punish Democratic voters? As for Michigan? Sure, it is true that the Michigan Democratic leadership is responsible for part of the mess in Michigan. Okay. So you can say they’re at fault so we’re doing to punish all the Democratic voters in the state. Or you can say what’s reasonable. It’s most reasonable to have Michigan represented at the Democratic National Convention the way every state is…
DR: What’s the downside, Tad?
TD: The downside is that it’s just not practical. To try to get an election in states that big. They talked about mailed ballots, for example. Oregon and Washington State have had them for about twenty years, perfecting a system of mailed balloting. It’s taken them about two decades to get to a point where they have a lot of confidence. Now, to try to go into states like Florida or Michigan, and to take systems like that and to impose them on a state in a matter of weeks and not a matter of decades – I think it’s just biting off too much.
DR: Governor Bredesen, you’ve got fodder for your next column in this discussion!
PB: We’ll play this one out now, and then maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll have a solution for that! [laughter]
DR: You don’t see that either one of these is the answer?
PB: I would have to agree. I just think it’s getting to the point that the mechanics of it is getting very difficult to have a revote. But if that’s what they decide… I don’t think you can just stiff-arm those two states and expect to win the presidency when the time comes. This is a problem that’s been created in part – in part – by the states, but certainly in part by the DNC. I think they ought to settle down and solve this problem.
DR: What kinds of reactions have you gotten to your own proposal for these super delegates?
PB: It’s interesting. I wasn’t sure when I wrote that whether it would drop like a rock in water… It’s obviously had some life to it. It’s basically been divided inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway. Inside the Beltway, fairly critical. Outside the Beltway, a lot of people saying, “Common sense, we oughta do something…”
DR: How about the chairman of the DNC, Howard Dean?
PB: I would say he’s inside the Beltway.
PB: He’s a good guy and I called him the morning the article came out. I’d say he’s not warm to the idea. But I just push back and say, “Look, we all know we’ve got a problem. If that’s not the solution, what is? Certainly not just to let it go on…”
SR: I think this points to an interesting conundrum for Howard Dean and the DNC. On the one hand they don’t want to be seen imposing a decision on the convention and on the party. On the other hand, they do have a responsibility to keep this process going so that there is a nominee earlier rather than later. I think they need to be somewhat more proactive.
DR: We have our first email from Simon who asks, Governor, which candidate would the proposal favor?
PB: …I don’t know. And I’ve probably heard about as many arguments on one side as the other. When I proposed it, the first thing some people did was check to see if my wife or I had many any contributions to anybody, see where we were! It is difficult to know. You can make an argument for both. You can make an argument for pro-Obama that it just sort of cements the current lead he has in place. You can certainly make an argument for pro-Clinton that she is on a roll and likely to continue to be for some period of time. I don’t really know. I’m genuinely trying to do this not in support of some candidate but in a desire to elect a president which I think gets really difficult if you start on Labor Day.
DR: Tad Devine, wouldn’t you begin to get a lot of deal-making at this so-called “mini-meeting” --or whatever you want to call it -- of super delegates?
TD: I don’t think so, Diane. I think if we did have such a meeting it would be very transparent. The governor’s talking about a business-like meeting…
DR: …What do you mean, “transparent”? You’re saying the press would be allowed to enter? It could be, in fact, televised if people chose to do that?
PD: I would suspect that if all the super delegates came together, you probably could get a camera to come in!
DR: But what about behind the scenes? Stu?
SR: I think there would be a sense around the country that, as I suggested earlier, this was all about the deals – all about trying to force a decision down people’s throats. But as I understand the governor’s proposal, it’s getting the people together and maybe have the two candidates come and make a presentation – and basically having a vote, having the unpledged members go on record, saying who they’d support.
DR: I had three reporters on here on Friday, during our Friday news roundup. When I asked them about your proposal, they all said, “Not a chance!” How much of a chance is there that this is going forward?
PB: I’m probably the wrong one to ask. I think it would have to have strong support from the DNC. I do not believe you can do it any other way. So I think it really has to play out from there. But, if not this, then I hope some way to bring some closure to this thing in June. Super delegates are human and we all work to deadline, whether you’re in college and doing a paper or paying your mortgage bill. If the deadline is late August, that’s where people are going to go. So we need some way to create an artificial deadline, a moral deadline…
DR: How worried are you about a blow-up at the Democratic National Convention?
PB: I’m not so worried about a blow-up as I am just looking at the lose opportunity. If you have a summer in which .. I mean basically you’re going to have to have each candidate trying to convince a lot of people that the other one is an unsuitable candidate. And you have all summer doing that and then you come together in convention and now you have two months to put the pieces of the party back together and unconvinced people that your nominee is not a suitable candidate! I just don’t think a convention in the 21st century essentially ending up close to Labor Day. It has to have had the decision made before then. You cannot start running for president at that point in time.
TD: I think we’re in uncharted waters here. We’ve never really had a contest like this in the modern era. What Governor Bredesen is offering, I think, is a solution to a very difficult problem. You know, he’s a Democrat who won an election in Tennessee in every single county in the state. I think that’s probably because he’s pretty good at solving practical problems. And that’s what this calls for. Practical problem solving. Sure, the nay-sayers are going to say, “Well, what about this, what about this, that, and the other thing.” The fact is, we need a mechanism to shut this thing down, to get some closure, to get behind one of our candidates so we can win the general election. The sooner we do it, the better.
DR: Here’s an email from Daniel, who says: Can the DNC ask Clinton to step down? Mathematically, it’s highly unlikely she could secure the nomination – which might split the party. Stu?
SR: I don’t think the DNC or Howard Dean, if Daniel means the chairman, wants to be seen as imposing its well on Democrats around the country. Millions of people have voted for both of these candidates. I think the DNC would rather the whole process play out. I agree entirely with the governor and Tad, though. The process right now looks just simply too chaotic. People have said, “Oh, we’ve had these conventions years ago and there used to be convention fights. So this is just going back…” Well, the nature of conventions has changed. They’ve become public relations tools. And with the amount of media we have now with cable coverage and the reporters on this issue, I think it could be a real disaster if we don’t get this thing settled sometime in the next few months.
DR: We have a call from Maple City, Michigan – Eric:
Eric: … Given that the Michigan primary was made a mockery in order to privilege the Iowa caucuses, why the thought of having Iowa type caucuses in Michigan and Florida aren’t considered. It would involve the state apparatus, and the rules are already known.
DR: What do you think, Tad?
TD: Well, I think in Michigan particularly, which has a caucus tradition of not so long ago, where the state party has run events, that’s a more realistic solution and a real possibility – that we could have some kind of state process. Florida’s a different matter. There’s no history or tradition there. It’s so big I think it’s almost practically impossible.
DR: If Florida and Michigan do not hold new primaries, does it make Senator Clinton’s path to the nomination impossible? Stu?
SR: I don’t think anybody should say impossible given what’s happened and the mess in this political year. I think it makes it much more difficult. These are two states that have profiles that are very similar to where she has done well. I think she needs not only contests there but some sort of primary. In Michigan they have had a mixed system of “firehouse primary” which is primaries with fewer sites. They’re almost like caucuses. There will be controversy on the system because Senator Clinton has done well in primaries and Senator Obama has done well with caucuses. So it’s not merely if there’s going to be a caucus but what kind of caucus. Because this all comes down to who is advantaged. Unfortunately, the way it’s now developed is not really principle anymore. It’s pure pragmatism: if my candidate going to be better off and if so then I’m for that! That’s what people seem to be thinking.
TD: That’s right. Unfortunately we’re at a stage right now where, instead of making gains with voters in an environment which is very hospitable to Democrats, given the issue terrain, the campaign is turning into a fight between two campaigns revolving around issues like personality and attacks from surrogates and moving off the issue terrain that we would want on issues like the economy and the war and healthcare and moving towards issues like race and patriotism and all of these other charges that are flying back and forth. If we allow that to continue for a few more months, this will seriously hurt whoever the nominee is.
DR: What about fellow Democrat Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Barack Obama on Friday? Do you believe he’ll sway more super delegates to Obama?
PB: I can only speak for the super delegates who are uncommitted in Tennessee whom I know. I don’t think it does anything in that regard. There certainly have been pluses and minuses in different directions but I certainly know of no one who is particularly swayed. I’m a practitioner and endorsements are in general pretty lightweight in terms of swaying voters on things…
DR: …What is going to make up your mind as a super delegate?
PB: Well, it’s one of these things where somebody’s got to tell me to make up my mind! I’ve got a lot of information. I read the press about things and I’ve looked at how candidates have done in Tennessee where I’ve got some responsibility. And nationally. I think it’s one of these things that when the decision is ripe, you just need to go ahead and do it. If somebody told me I had to do it today, I’d probably do it today. If they tell me I’ve gotta do in on the 10th of June, I’ll do it on the 10th of June. It’s like a lot of decisions. You wait until it’s ripe, you take the information you have at hand, you make a decision, and move.
SR: Well, I’ll tell you, Governor, make the decision now! Why don’t you pick somebody here and now on this show. You said you want to move this process along. You’ve made this proposal. Wouldn’t that be a terrific sign of your commitment to this, to decisions now? So why don’t you just tell us who you’re going to support?
PB: That’s very tactfully put! [laughter] But I think I’ll continue at my current status for a while. I think first of all I would like to try and help push the Democratic Party and the DNC in particular towards some early resolution. That becomes much more difficult to do if you’re a pledged delegate.
DR: What difference does Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Obama make, Tad?
TD: I think it helped Obama. First of all remember: Obama all last week was reacting to the story of his minister. And then the speech he gave – the very powerful speech on race. I think this helps to move it to a better place for Obama where we talk about why people support him. Bill Richardson is a great surrogate, someone who loves to campaign, who’s out there on Obama’s behalf, can speak for him on the national stage and help him in upcoming primaries. So I think it’s very helpful. But I agree with the governor. Individual endorsements don’t deliver a lot of voters and I don’t think they deliver a lot of super delegates either. It’s a very personal process. So it’s helpful, in terms of the big dynamic of the campaign, but not necessarily helpful in terms of delivering anyone else.
DR: Very interesting. We’ve had a call from “Sam” from Nairobi, Kenya, who says that after the election in Kenya and its aftermath, they are waiting for Americans to show them the way to handle the election! I think that’s a pretty bold charge!
TD: We are looked at all around the world. I’ve worked on campaigns in, I think, eight countries around the world in recent years. I can tell you, just being abroad and looking back at the US, this country is still the beacon of the world and particularly with respect to our politics and our democracy. When we don’t show the best face, whether it’s what happened in the 2000 election or when people around the world feel that America is imposing its will on the rest of the world, we suffer by it. I think we have a great opportunity in this election to turn the page and come to a much better place. That will help us, not just in terms of our standing in the world but in terms of how we defend this nation and whether or not we’ll succeed in our economy. Because it’s a new economy as well.
PB: It’s trite to say that problems are opportunities, but I think, frankly, this is an opportunity for the Democratic party. We have a nation where people are looking to a president with a lot of intractable problems to deal with – we don’t need to recite them. The Democratic party has a self-evident problem. They created it themselves in the rules. It was unanticipated. Can we now figure out some way to solve this problem or do we just leave it on autopilot and carry on to the convention?
DR: Now to Jo in Harrisburg, PA.
Jo: I want to ask the panelist and any super delegates out there listening why, exactly, there is so much hand wringing over how this problem could possibly be resolved without a convention floor fight. There’s one candidate who’s won the popular vote, who has won states by significant margins – sometimes two to one – and there’s one candidate who has a majority of pledged delegates. I think there’s a reason why, even though one candidate has been so consistent not only in the polling results and the caucus results but also in terms of the obstacles thrown in his path and how he has risen to each occasion. There’s one candidate who has continued to prevail. And that’s Barack Obama. I myself am what the researchers would expect to be a typical Hillary Clinton supporter. I’m a white woman in my mid-50’s with blondish hair and a degree from the same school Bill and Hillary got their law degrees from. What I’ve seen in the conduct of the two campaigns and the conduct of the two candidates has given me so much excitement and feeling of being honored to be at this place and this time to watch Senator Obama come to the forefront. I just don’t understand the hand wringing! It seems to me that we have two wonderful candidates and one is an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime, wise leader.
TD: I think what Jo expresses is a sentiment we hear from a lot of Democrats. When this process is over, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will have received more votes – each one of them, the winner and the loser – than any Democratic nominee in history. When you get that many votes and you have that much support – Jo says she’s a typical Hillary supporter, but I would submit that if she went to Yale she’s a typical Obama supporter! She’s highly educated, probably upper income. She’s part of the Obama coalition. These coalitions, which have formed in the primary process, are very distinct and they’re holding true. That’s why it’s likely in the weeks ahead that we’ll continue to have a stalemate as we go from state to state. Because these voters have found their candidate and they’re staying with their candidate. The question is whether we can solve it in a way that keeps Jo interested in Hillary, if she’s the nominee, or keeps a Hillary supporter interested in Obama. That’s the great challenge. I think the more I hear of the governor’s proposal, the more I think it’s a very good idea. We need a mechanism for closure. If we institutionalize it, if it’s transparent, and if we do it in broad daylight, I think people will support it.
PB: You know, you talk about that but one of the things that I see happening… Ninety days ago, everyone was going around saying, “Isn’t it wonderful we have two great candidates and one of them is going to be president!” It is getting much more divisive and bitter right now. There are some people getting into very hardened positions on either side. You let that continue for three months longer than it needs to and it gets very difficult to put back together again in time to win a campaign.
SR: I agree. Jo said that there are two good candidates; one is “an extraordinary, wise leader.” The problem is that virtually half the party thinks that describes Senator Clinton and half the party thinks that describes Senator Obama. He does have a narrow lead. She’s right. He may well win… end up with the most popular votes as well as pledged delegates. And he may be the nominee. But it’s so close, given the total number of votes cast and the number of delegates out there, that I think there’s great danger – as the governor and Tad have suggested – of a worsening environment within the Democratic party.
DR: Call from Alberta in Mogee, Oklahoma:
Alberta: … The subject of Florida and Michigan I think should be a moot subject. The Constitution provides that each of us has a vote. I understand their position on the black and white candidate and how the blacks would like a black candidate. I’m black myself. I would like a black candidate. But to run the country I want the smartest person I think we’ve got running. And so I’m going to have to go with Hillary Clinton. Experience does count and I find – especially in that NAFTA treaty situation – that Obama just isn’t up to it. He told Americans one thing on that NAFTA treaty – that he was going to stop it – and then he messages the Canadians and tells them that that was just for us.
DR: Of course, Alberta, we don’t know that the message to the Canadians came directly from Obama himself or whether someone acting for him took the liberty of saying that – without permission. Tad, it’s an interesting call.
TD: Yes. I think what Alberta demonstrates is that as long as the campaign goes on voters are hearing the attacks from the other side and these attacks are getting through to people, penetrating. And they’re affecting them. If this goes on for months and months, then more attacks will be made, Democrat against Democrat, more people like Alberta will hear it, and they’ll be affected by it.
DR: There are three people we need to hear from. Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi. Among many, many others. How has Al Gore responded to your proposal, Governor?
PB: Non-committally. I called him. He obviously is a fellow Nashvillean. I called him in the morning it came out just to give him a heads-up. He actually had seen it and at that point was non-committal. Which I think I’d probably be in his position. So I’m not complaining about that. I’ve not had a chance to talk with either President Carter or to Speaker Pelosi. She actually – when I called her – was on an airplane somewhere over the ocean on her way to the Far East.
DR: I think the thing that worries people the most is if the popular vote goes to one candidate and the super delegates overturn that. If your proposal is not enacted, how likely do you think that might be?
PB: It certainly is out there. That’s one of the two possible outcomes for what super delegates do. My argument would be that if that’s what’s going to happen, far better that it happen in June and have the summer to put things back together again, than have…
DR:… How do you put that back together again? How do you say to people who voted for one candidate or another, “Sorry, we as super delegates think we know better!”
PB: Well, first of all, as super delegates, we’re not some unified body. It is a whole bunch of individuals who are empowered by the party to make an independent decision in this thing. And if the answer … I think, for me – I mean obviously Senator Obama has a majority of the popular vote nationally, but Hillary Clinton has the majority in Tennessee, and those things would have to be a factor in how I or any other super delegate would vote. But I don’t think it’s determinative. If it were determinative, we’d be pledged delegates!
DR: What’s the super delegate count right now? Stu?
SR: I don’t know. I think Senator Clinton has a narrow advantage. She started with a significant advantage. And the drip, drip, drip … There’s a handful of Clinton super delegates who have switched to Obama. But mostly this is previously undeclared super delegates.
TD: Today’s New York Times count says Obama has 204 super delegates and that Hillary Clinton has 222. The Associated Press says Obama has 213 delegates and Hillary Clinton has 249. So they’re within 20-30 of each other. They both have more than 200. And there’s about 35-40% still out there uncommitted.
SR: And there has been a distinct narrowing of that Clinton advantage. She started off with a significant edge of super delegates.
DR: Call from Cleveland, OH – Linda:
Linda: I think the Super Bowl should have been stopped at the end of the third quarter!
DR: Uh-h-h-h… Okay…
Linda: That’s what these guys are trying to do. They’re trying to stop the game at the end of the third quarter. They need to let it play out. They’re absolutely wrong. The Democratic party is strong. The people are strong. And people are selecting who they want. Democrats want Hillary. Registered Democrats are voting 65-70% for Hillary. 40% of Obama’s vote is from independents and Republicans. They should not be allowed to make the decision on who the Democratic party nominee is.
SR: Let’s be clear about what the governor is suggesting. He’s not suggesting that we stop the process now, as I understand it. He’s basically proposing that we get rid of the commercials between now and the end of the game to speed up the game so that the game ends, as it would have, with the same plays being run, the same people making the same commitments. But let’s get it done now – before June –instead of in August. None of us are saying, “Change the rules. Anoint somebody now.” No, in fact we’ve suggested that the party needs to deal with Michigan and Florida. So while I understand Linda’s emotional commitment and energy and I think that’s good, I think she’s being a little unfair.
DR: Here’s an email from Jane in Lima, New York. “How many of us out here are just tickled pink that this is a 50-state strategy. This is a true testament to Howard Dean’s vision, the 50-state strategy. Dr. Dean did not win the nomination four years ago, but he sure is helping us get our country back!” Do you agree with that, Governor?
PB: I’m not quite sure what she means by a 50-state strategy. Obviously the primary selection process is at least a 48-state strategy at the moment that’s being worked on. They all are important players in that. But I, for one, hope that when the election ultimately comes around, that we can move out of fighting it out in a very few marginal states. I think this will be open enough that it may be much broader…
SR: Diane, I don’t think Howard Dean mean this as a 50-state strategy – having two people go to state after state after state in knockdown, drag-out fights! And I’m not sure, frankly, it’s going to make a lot of these states competitive in the general election the way Howard Dean wanted. That’s really his 50-state strategy.
TD: Although I will say that in Pennsylvania right now, voter registration ends today. They have had massive voter registration in Pennsylvania.
TD: And I think that will actually be good for us. So listen, this could be good for us. It just depends on the tone of the campaign. Right now the tone of the campaign is bad and therefore it is bad for us.
DR: To Birmingham, Alabama. Gail:
Gail: I’ll probably comment on the last thing I just heard. And that is that it’s not good for us. Actually, it’s quite good. I really think that it ought to play out, let everyone learn as much as they can about the candidates. I think early on I felt as a voter that we were just dealing with bumper stickers and canned speeches that were delivered quite well. But I think the more we learn about our candidates, the more our citizens will play a part in this. And let them do this! This is the way it’s supposed to play out, whether it’s 48 states or 50. I’m looking forward to it.
DR: Gail, I just wonder how you feel about the fact that neither candidate is talking primarily about the issues. Neither candidate is talking to a great extent about Iraq, about the economy, about farms, about housing. We’ve gotten bogged down, for example, in the issue of talking about race! Which is certainly a good thing. But, at the same time, sort of sidetracks us.
Gail: Actually, I spent a great deal of time listening to the speeches on the campaign trail. Cable stations put them on, so I make a point. And, by the way, I make a point of reading all the books that are coming out on the Iraq war … I make a point of listening to those speeches and in fact I have heard both individuals speak to the issues, particularly answering questions from the audience. Hillary Clinton, for example, well versed and can give detail. So maybe what the media is covering is a little different from what you see on the campaign trail. I’m not there, but I’ve heard the individual speeches live.
DR: I’m glad.
SR: Gail’s right. Candidates do talk about substance on the campaign trail. But she’s also right that’s not what the media likes! What we journalists like! We like, as my colleague and friend Charlie Cook says, we like to heard the shoulder pads crack. So reporters cover the process. They cover the game of politics and the negativity because that’s what gets the buzz going and that’s what keeps people excited. It’s the kind of salacious aspect of politics, not the policies.
DR: Here is an email from Aaron in Baltimore who says, “What’s the point of having a convention in August if the Democrats want to have their nominee decided by June? Why not just have the convention earlier? Isn’t the convention a mock show if the nominee is selected so far in advance? If the parties want to have their nominees selected so far in advance of the November election, then they should set up the primaries and conventions to do just that.” Governor?
PB: Conventions are a mock show. That’s what they are. They’re the beginning of the endgame and, in my adult lifetime, they’ve had nothing to do with selecting who the candidate is. Which is often determined very early. Republicans have a candidate and it’s the middle of March.
DR: But isn’t that what you’re suggesting, a mini-convention?
PB: What I’m suggesting is some way of bringing … if it ultimately comes down to – which is what it’s looking like – what those super delegates are going to do, I’m simply saying, “Is there any piece of information that you’re not going to have in June that you’ll have at the end of August that remotely is worth the long hot summer with everybody pounding on each other and not doing things we need to do together?” I don’t think there is. So let’s get on with it!
DR: But couldn’t you have helped the process by getting on with it by declaring your own choice?
PB: If I thought that my coming out with my own choice would cause super delegates to fall from the sky into different bins of their choices, I’d happily do it! I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ve been pushing back for months now and it’s very easy to push back and not give a choice as a super delegate. I just think there needs to be some kind of an action, some sort of a bookend to this process where people come together, and this is my best suggestion. If someone else has a better suggestion I would love to hear it. I just don’t want to go through the summer that way.
DR: Fort Worth, Texas, Harold:
Harold: I commend the governor for drawing needed attention to the intended importance of the super delegates. That position was not created to be a rubber stamp sinecure of what somebody else did. The rules long ago intended for them to be available to play the important role of exercising their experience and judgment in such a situation as this. Second, as a criterion for them to make their decision, I strongly suggest we stop talking about the total vote to include states that the Democrats have no chance of winning. Who cares about the votes that anybody got in Utah or South Carolina or Mississippi or maybe even Texas? The rationale should be to total up the delegates necessary to carry the states’ electoral votes in sufficient numbers for the Democrats to win and not anything else in my opinion.
SR: On Harold’s first point about the role of unpledged delegates, all I can say is he’s absolutely, positively right. And he said it better than I’ve said it often. It was clear and concise and absolutely on the money. As to the second point, he’s raising a point of electability – which is something we haven’t really mentioned in this whole show. And yet it’s hanging over the Democratic race. The unfortunate thing for Democrats is every couple of weeks the polls change as to who is more electable. So that only keeps the dynamic continuing – the pot stirring – as the argument goes back and forth. And when you get to electability, you raise fundamental questions about who’s strong and who’s weak. And that adds to more controversy and more disagreement and becomes more personal.
DR: Is that how the super delegates are going to make their choices?
PB: I think, given who the super delegates are – which is party officials and elected officials – I think electability is going to be a significant issue. It is one of the things we bring to the party. And one of the reasons why the super delegates were created in the first place.
DR: And do you believe that you personally need, between now and June, to figure out who is more electable?
PB: I think it would be highly premature for the super delegates to weigh in -- in the fashion I’m talking about-- until the voting has ceased in the various primaries. Once that’s over, I think you have the information.
TD: I think the governor’s right. One good thing we’ll get out of this is that everybody gets to vote in every state. People will feel that they’ve bought into this process – they’ve been able to participate in it. What we need to avoid right now – between now and June – is destroying the nominee of the Democratic party and doing it ourselves. That’s the problem. If we can move away from that conflict… You know, I teach about campaigns in class and I always write on the blackboard, “Conflict = coverage.” If you want to get coverage in a political campaign, you have to create conflict. And unfortunately the two campaigns here under that equation all too well. And they are going out and creating conflicts so they can get the coverage of their candidates.
SR: But Tad – and Governor – isn’t the problem aggravated if Senator Clinton narrows the gap of total delegates and popular vote and we still haven’t had Michigan and Florida. How do the super delegates decide without those two states having decided?
DR: What’s the answer?
PB: Well, we’re out of time!! [laughter]
DR: Not quite! Not quite!
PB: Obviously for this to work one would like for the Florida and Michigan issues to be resolved somehow.