Who or What Will Decide the Democratic Presidential Nomination?

LOS ANGELES —  “The complaints have already been drafted,” my friend — a prominent Florida lawyer — told me, and I’m certain that’s true. If they haven’t been, they will be. In recent days, it has become all but certain that Florida, facing disenfranchisement at the Democratic Convention, will nonetheless not conduct a “redo” of its Democratic Presidential primary. Depending upon who you talk to, the reason is either politics (Republican vs. Democrat), or politics (Clinton vs. Obama) or cost (will the voters pay, or the party, or private contributions?), or some combination of all three. Michigan seems to be headed for the same dead end, which should get the lawyers there to start drafting.

Theoretically, there are two forums where the dispute could be resolved: inside the Democratic Party, first in the Credentials Committee and ultimately at the Convention; or in the courts.

But the problem with the Party route, which is the obvious one, is that in practice, it combines the worst of all worlds: continuing the fight for the nomination until the bitter end, with almost no possibility of actally affecting its outcome. Here’s why. Seats on the Credentials Committee will, if past procedure is followed, be allocated between the campaigns based on their respective percentage of pledged delegates after the last primary. But in truth, the Credentials Commiteee won’t decide anything if things are contested. Say Obama has a few extra votes allowing his forces to prevail in Credentials and produce a majority report that calls for NOT seating Florida. The Clinton forces will have more than enough votes for a minority report to take to the convention proposing that the Florida (and Michigan) delegates be seated. The first order of business at the Convention will be to vote on the report(s) of the Credentials Committee. The challenged delegates won’t vote, but the superdelegates will, and whoever is ahead in total delegates will “win” (if it comes to this) in a vote, which will be disciplined along candidate lines even more than the 1980 Convention vote between the sparring Kennedy and Carter camps about whether delegates were bound by the results of the primaries and caucuses (which meant Carter won) were. There was hardly a single defection on the rules vote in 1980, and there wouldn’t be any on a Credentials challenge if it came to that. Whoever is ahead coming in will be ahead coming out, but the nomination will be worth far less for the fight.

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