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May 30, 2008

Decision Time for Michigan and Florida

posted by Josh Goodman

Tomorrow the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to resolve the problem of Florida and the problem of Michigan. I say "problem" twice not to be redundant, but because the two states (so often lumped together) actually have very different situations.

Florida is home to lots of Hispanics, culturally Southern whites and, most of all, old people. In other words, it would probably have been a Hillary Clinton state even if it had held a primary that counted and even if both Clinton and Barack Obama had campaigned in the state.

As a result, the solution is pretty obvious. Use the results from the unauthorized January primary, but cut the state's total delegate count as punishment. Maybe a valid contest would have yielded a slighty different result, but there's nothing especially unfair about using the primary as a basis for awarding delegates.

Michigan is a much thornier problem.

First of all, Obama didn't appear on the ballot. Clinton took 55% of the vote and "uncommitted" won 40%. So, if the Rules and Bylaws Committee uses the primary as a guide, the big question is whether to award the uncommitted delegates to Obama or to keep them uncommitted.

However, the bigger question is whether it makes sense to use that primary at all. In the Democratic presidential race, demographics have been destiny. And, as (my nominee for best new political blog of the 2008 presidential campaign) points out in delightfully detailed demographic analysis, Michigan should have been a toss-up between Clinton and Obama. One reason: Michigan's African-American population (14.3%) is higher than the national average.

That finding squares with at least some polls that looked at a Michigan revote. For example, one in March showed a tie between Clinton and Obama -- 41%-41%. So it's pretty clear that using the January Michigan primary to assign delegates underestimates Obama's support in the state, even if you give the uncommitted vote to him.

The one saving grace for the committee is that Obama's overall delegate lead is strong enough that they can craft a solution that awards Obama somewhat fewer delegates than he would have won in a sanctioned Michigan race, without upending the nomination fight (and not upending the nomination fight is probably the committee's first objective). If the candidates were separated by a couple dozen delegates or fewer, the Michigan problem would be a nightmare.


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