During her radio show yesterday, Rachel Maddow expressed some concerns that seemed consistent with some of my worst fears about the end-game for the Clinton campaign. Rachel’s own detailed description of her thesis is contained here, but the real meat of it can be summarized in three parts:
1. Hillary is trying to use Michigan and Florida to create a procedural dispute over the Democratic Party electoral process that she can appeal all the way to the convention.
2. Once at the convention, anything can happen and she retains a chance of
3. If the nominee is still in dispute at the convention, there is no chance of either Democrat beating John McCain in November.
Her conclusion is that the only possible way to head off this scenario is to avoid a dispute during the May 31 meeting of the DNC Rules Committee, by conceding everything to Hillary regarding Florida and Michigan so there won’t be anything left for her to appeal.
This begs the question: What is “everything” regarding Michigan and Florida? Rachel doesn’t say, although she does point out that Hillary used the phrase “to her satisfaction,” suggesting that if she really wants a dispute, she’s going to be pretty damned hard to satisfy!
I would say that the issue is pretty clear in Florida, where Obama got votes and the intentions of those who voted can easily be divided between Clinton and Obama (with some Edwards delegates remaining unassigned until they commit on their own).
Regarding Michigan, I think it’s reasonable for Obama to expect to get the delegates assigned to “Uncommitted,” because from a political perspective, all of Hillary’s own arguments could be turned around as a call not to disenfranchise those who wanted to vote for Obama though his name wasn’t on the ballot (at the urging of the DNC). [Update: Technically, he already has 31 of them!] Again, the Edwards delegates in Michigan would remain unassigned).
So the ultimate question is: Can Obama concede these things without risking the nomination?
According to Maddow, he would need some things to happen very soon – either a big enough wave of superdelegates to secure his lead before he concedes, or the confidence to know he will still win the nomination by June 3 or shortly thereafter, even after he concedes.
Rather than walk through all the permutations, let me just defer to a couple of heavyweights on the key question.
Poblano goes through all the number crunching, with excellent tables detailing multiple scenarios, and reaches this conclusion:
The Florida/Michigan brouhaha is much ado about nothing. Even if Clinton gets her way with the two states, she'd still need about 80 percent of superdelegate commitments to secure the nomination. Clinton's arguments about electability and the popular vote might persuade a dozen delegates, or a couple dozen, or perhaps even the majority. It won't persuade 80 percent. (Or more realistically, the 90 percent she'd need if there is some sort of compromise on Florida and Michigan).And Al Giordano gives a similar run-down on the leanings of the remaining undeclared superdelegates, before revealing the likely winning poker hand by Obama:
I suspect, that after giving Senator Clinton enough rope to continue to behave ridiculously as she did today in Florida for the next ten days, the Obama campaign may - a day or two before the May 31 Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting - pull the chair out from under her and call for seating the whole shebang, looking gracious and magnanimous in victory, and leaving her presidential campaign hanging by the rope of its own making.And, just for posterity, I’ll tack on my earlier assessment from May 8th describing why Michigan and Florida didn’t matter even before Hillary started the current gambit described by Maddow.