March 7, 2008
The Tragedy of the Democratic PartyBy Thomas Lifson and Richard Baehr
Super delegates will determine the next nominee of the Democrats, and a happy ending for the Party looks unlikely. Mathematically, the Democratic Party is nearly locked in to Barack Obama entering the convention with a significant delegate lead. Taking the nomination away from him via the super delegate mechanism would alienate the Party's African-American base and potentially turn off a swath of the younger generation enthusiasts for Obama's multi-cultural charisma.
Yet there are signs that the Obama bubble may be bursting, his support peaking, while serious press scrutiny is beginning to fire buyer's remorse in certain quarters. The potentially seriously embarrassing Rezko trial gathers steam in a Chicago federal court and will build as the weeks unfold. The Party may very well find itself nominating the weaker candidate in Denver, even as Hillary Clinton's popular support within the Party rises.
But unless Hillary Clinton is able to win over large numbers of super delegates (in the process infuriating many Obama enthusiasts, including many African-Americans), she cannot win the nomination. Obama will enter the convention with more delegates than she has. Fear of the inevitable backlash, should Party insiders be perceived to be stealing the nomination from the front-runner who is also the first serious black contender, could be a trump card in Obama's hands.
Genuine tragedy -- protagonists undone by their flaws -- rarely is found in the news. Tornadoes may be devastating, but usually they are not tragic. The story arc of this year's Democratic Party nomination is heading in a Sophoclean direction. The Party's predicament is anchored in its own hubris and that of its major power players.
Barack Obama has been able to accumulate more delegates, and will continue to hold his own, even as momentum shifts to Hillary Clinton, thanks to the often convoluted weighting process used by the Democratic Party, which this year has disproportionately rewarded Barack Obama for his big victories in small states and in majority African-American congressional districts. Team Obama's organizing and going after the caucus states was a brilliant exploitation of the wave of idealistic enthusiasm his campaign rode. Hillary Clinton's own hubris led her to believe in her own inevitability and devote insufficient resources to the caucus states.
Obama is richer in delegates than in popular support
Obama enjoys his lead in delegates for one main reason: black majority congressional districts. Democrats are proportional as long as losing candidate gets 25% of the vote. But in black majority districts, Obama is winning north of 80%, so he gets them all. He also has big (2 to 1) leads in many low-turnout caucus states. His delegate lead among elected delegates is a much bigger percentage margin (6%) than his lead in the popular vote (2%). If you throw in Florida, his vote lead is 1%. It is surprising that Hillary Clinton has not made more of an issue of this yet -- since the popular vote is all but even. Super delegates continue to move toward him, suggesting that many had committed to do it after March 4, expecting his victory march to continue and did not change their minds despite his defeat in 3 of 4 contests that day.
Florida and Michigan
Even if Hillary Clinton were to get her way and have the existing Michigan and Florida delegations seated (something very unlikely to happen, since Obama was not even on the ballot in Michigan owing to his earlier fidelity to Party discipline), Obama would still have a lead in pledged (elected) delegates. Reader Otis A. Glazebrook, IV sent the following calculation:
If Michigan and Florida delegates are seated, the total needed to nominate would be 2,195 because the Delegate total would increase by 341 to 4,389 Total Delegates.
If the 185 Florida Delegates were seated "as-is":
Obama @ 1,366 + 67 = 1,433 Delegates
Clinton @ 1,222 + 105 = 1,327 Delegates
Obama leads by 105 PLEDGED Delegates.
For the sake of argument let's assign Michigan's 156 delegates according to the percentages as they were determined on election day:
Clinton won 56% of the vote or 87.4 Delegates.
It does not seem unreasonable to me to award Obama the Uncommitted 31% and the Undecided 9% or 62.4 Delegates.
(Edwards has 13% or 20.3 Pledged Delegates)
Obama @ 1,433 + 62 = 1,495 Pledged Delegates
Clinton @ 1,327 + 87 = 1,414 Pledged Delegates
Obama still leads by 81 Pledged Delegates!
Obama certainly would not agree to seat the current Florida and Michigan delegates (particularly since he was not even on the ballot), of course. It doesn't matter if he would still be ahead because seating them would buttress Hillary's big state argument and could sway the super delegates.
This race is all about super delegates now, regardless of what happens in Florida and Michigan . As Rick Moran has pointed out: someone has to pay for new primaries or caucuses ($15-20 million for a primary in Florida, and almost as much in cash-strapped Michigan ) and it isn't going to be the taxpayers in those two states. Michigan's Governor Granholm is ruling out a primary unless its 100% funded by someone else. The Florida Democrats can't see any scenario where a caucus or primary can be held, though the Republican governor made encouraging noises about holding another primary vote so his state's Democratic primnary voters wouldn't be disenfranchised, only to back away when the subject of the state paying for the election was raised.
The pressure will build, and the Party may well cave. The Democrats, currently far ahead of the GOP in donations, have the money to pay for both states' elections. The new election route is one way to partially placate Hillary, but given proportional rules, she still will not catch up.
So it will come down in Denver to the Party's super delegates, a mechanism reeking of rule by elites, adopted by the party which proclaims its devotion to the common man and woman, and which has made huge amounts of noise about making every vote count. Thanks to its convoluted primary process, with proportional arrangements frustrating the desire to have a decisive winner to allow the party to get on with hammering the GOP nominee, the edge in pledged delegates that belongs to Barack Obama will be difficult to overcome among the super delegates, who have been breaking his way since the first Super Tuesday.
Will the political party which depends on blacks voting for it by a 9 to 1 ratio be able to deny its backing for the nation's highest office to a black man who holds the pledged delegate lead? Will this be so even if the shine on his vague promises gets tarnished and his involvement in ordinary Chicago machine politics becomes clear over the course of the Rezko trial? Will this be so if by the summer it is clear that Clinton would be a stronger general election candidate, running better in more of the contested states than Obama (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and in western states with high percentages of Hispanics)?
The tragic flaw of the Democratic Party is the hubris that allows it to style itself as the only force interested in the welfare of minorities and the poor, and the only party committed to real democracy. It is not accustomed to its own internal processes being subjected to much critical media scrutiny.
But Denver promises to be the greatest political media spectacle since the Democrats' Chicago convention in 1968. The two candidates are very close in the popular vote and in the delegate race. It would be foolish for either not to go after the nomination prize until mathematically eliminated. The ambition that drives both nominees pretty much ensures that this will happen. It could well end up tearing apart the Party.
And so, in a manner the Greek tragedians would recognize, forces set in motion by fatal flaws in the party and its leadership push the Democrats toward self-destruction, despite the recognition of the dangers ahead.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker, and Richard Baehr is its political director.