Now that a Democratic presidential race that was supposed to end in early February has evolved into a contest that may not end until late August, DNC chair Howard Dean has come to the conclusion that there is time to set right parts of the process that were done wrong.
Dean’s right to recognize the need to address the democracy-deficit that has afflicted the process. But he’s not going far enough when it comes to taking responsibility for making the “fix” a success.
Specifically, Dean is calling for Michigan and Florida, big states that risked their presence at this summer’s party convention by jumping ahead on the Democratic National Committee’s primary and caucus schedule, to come up with plans to hold presidential nominating contests that will count.
“All they have to do is come before us with rules that fit into what they agreed to a year and a half ago, and then they’ll be seated,” says Dean, who has come to realize that the party’s dysfunctional process now threatens to become a major issue in a close race for the nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Clinton “won” faux primaries in January in Michigan and Florida. But because the states had scheduled their votes outside the window allowed by the DNC, she secured no delegates to the convention. For the past month and a half, Clinton has been trying to suggest that she is going to “find a way to seat the delegations from Michigan and Florida.”
But that is not going to happen unless she has a dominant majority of convention delegates from the rest of the states, since her campaign would need to win a convention floor fight to change the rules and seat Michigan and Florida delegations.
The notion of such a fight is nightmarish for Democrats, and especially for members of Congress and party leaders who, as so-called “super-delegates,” would be called upon to tip the balance in the rules fight. The notion of a convention where delegations selected under dubious circumstances might be seated in order to nominate a candidate — Clinton — who would otherwise have lost the nod is a recipe for disaster.
Similarly, smart players in the Obama camp — and friendly super-delegates — are properly horrified at the idea that they might be put in a position of disenfranchising the essential Democratic state of Michigan and the swing state of Florida.
Florida and Michigan officials may have created the mess. But the DNC urgently needs to clean it up.
Dean knows this.
So, now that officials in both Florida and Michigan are toying with do-over scenarios, Dean is essentially saying, “O.K., whatever you want to do, we’re down with that.”
Unfortunately, the DNC chair is still saying the parties in Florida and Michigan have to come up with the money to fund new primaries — or perhaps caucuses — that would probably be held in June.
“We can’t afford to do that,” Dean said when asked whether the DNC would help pay for the new votes in Florida and Michigan. “That’s not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race.”
That’s an absurd statement.
The Michigan-Florida mess is the DNC’s problem. They cannot afford to have a rules fight that raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy of the party’s nomination process blow up in August. The negative publicity would cost the DNC far more than paying for new votes — and it might even cost the party the presidential race.
Does this mean the DNC must pay the whole cost of new votes in Florida and Michigan? No. But Dean and other key players at the DNC must be actively engaged in the work of finding the money and repairing the biggest breach in the DNC’s poorly-designed and even more poorly-managed 2008 nominating process.