Joseph Lane: Memo to Senator Obama: Concede Florida & Michigan!





[Joseph Lane is the Hawthorne Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Emory & Henry.]

TO: Senator Barack Obama
FROM: Your Delegate Counters
RE: Florida and Michigan

Since the unfortunate losses in Ohio and Texas on March 4, we have had a number of bad news cycles. The Samantha Power comments certainly weren’t helpful, but more to the point, our good news about more than 50 million raised in February and our continuing rollouts of super-delegate endorsements have been swamped by all this discussion of Florida and Michigan (F&M)– Will they re-vote? When will they re-vote? Who will pay for a re-vote?

After careful consideration of all of the options for dealing with these stories, we have reached a counter-intuitive conclusion:

The best thing that we can do is concede F&M immediately and encourage the DNC to seat the delegations with the one proviso that the uncommitted delegates from Michigan be given to us.

We know that this seems like waving a white flag, but it may be the best possible outcome for our campaign.

Of course, the best case scenario for us would be either

1) No delegations from these states are ever seated (or that pro forma 50-50 delegations are seated, which is really the same thing). At this point, we cannot imagine how we will engineer this outcome unless you are clearly the nominee with the opportunity to dictate the terms of your convention. However, we cannot imagine that you will be able to persuade Senator Clinton to concede the nomination as long as the F&M situations are unresolved.

OR

2) Re-votes are held in both states, and we can win them both. Given the demographics and the costs involved, this appears to be unlikely.

Given that our “best case” scenarios are not at all likely to occur, what are our options?

1) F&M re-vote at some point late in the process, probably in June. Working toward this option means that the maneuvering about F&M will dominate the news cycles for some time to come with questions about who is helping the cause and who is impeding it, who is paying for it, and who is “winning” in these once and future primaries. This is not good for us.

More to the point, the only way that F&M will be our undoing is if they are both “won” by Senator Clinton as the culmination of this process. This would give her a banner headline at the end of the delegate selection period and allow her to claim major victories in two very important states when everyone’s eyes are turning toward the convention and super-delegates are being forced to choose sides.

In short, Clinton victories in F&M in January are minor nuisances. Clinton victories in F&M in June would be disastrous. We should make every effort to prevent any such elections if we think Senator Clinton would win them both—and there are good reasons to fear that she might.

2) We defuse the entire situation now by “conceding” F&M (with our receiving the uncommitted delegates) now. Consider the following:

Today, after winning in Wyoming, we lead by somewhere between 141 (CNN) and 155 (realclearpolitics.com) pledged delegates. We might reasonably expect to expand that lead to 160 or more by the end of the week with the completion of the Texas caucus results and another victory in Mississippi. If we concede Senator Clinton 60% of the 313 delegates from F&M on Friday, she would gain about 64 delegates. Therefore, on that day, we would still lead her by nearly 100 pledged delegates (maybe more), even with F&M in her column. The chances that she can make up 100 delegates in the remaining states, even with a 10-12 point victory in Pennsylvania, are virtually nil.

Right now, she has been able to dismiss our substantial lead in pledged delegates by insinuating that it is more appearance than reality, that we are relying on the exclusion of F&M to maintain our advantage. Recording the F&M delegates puts this argument to rest once and for all. We really do have a virtually insurmountable lead in pledged delegates, however they are counted.

Three possible objections answered:

1) “Allowing the F&M votes to count makes a mockery of the DNC’s ability to dictate the rules of the nomination contests.”

This is unfortunately true, but we can’t be the only campaign clinging to this argument. Senator Clinton’s campaign has been more than willing to throw the DNC overboard in order to secure the nomination, and Howard Dean cannot save us from her on this score. The chaos that may ensue in 2012 or 2016 cannot be our responsibility.

Furthermore, if we do concede F&M, we can make ourselves appear to be the campaign that is truly solicitous of the good of the party. We can save the DNC or the state parties as much as 30 million dollars that could be directed to House and Senate races if it is not buying new primaries. We can cast ourselves as the campaign that is willing to take a delegate hit, even though we don’t have to, in order to secure greater comity and a more civil tone in the campaign. We can rise above the fray, think of the common good, and model the “new politics” on which our campaign is based.

It is possible, perhaps unlikely, that the DNC will still refuse to seat the delegations even though we have conceded that they may do so, in which case this is no longer about us because we have tried to solve the problem.

2) “Senator Clinton will balk at the deal either by insisting that the F&M should vote again in ‘real, contested primaries’ in June or that the Michigan uncommitteds should not be counted in our column.”

Let her. Nothing would reveal her mercenary willingness to sacrifice every principle for the nomination than having her decry the very outcome for which she has argued since January 29. She’s the one who threw a victory party for the first Florida primary – How can she now say that she thinks that one didn’t count?

If she now has the nerve to insist that F&M should vote again, we will play back all of the comments from her campaign starting with Ickes’ “they cannot be counted” in October through all the claims that these states have already voted in January and let voters draw their own conclusions. The cynical self-serving character of these shifting pleas will be transparent.

If she claims the Michigan uncommitteds should not be counted for you, we will ask her about it in the Pennsylvania debates: “Do you really think a vote for uncommitted in Michigan was anything other than a vote against you? Do you really think that no one in Michigan wanted to vote for Senator Obama (who was just following the party rules by not appearing on the ballot)? Just how much of an unfair advantage do you want in this race?”

3) “If we give up those 64 delegates, Senator Clinton might overtake us in the pledged delegate lead in Puerto Rico on June 1.”

This is very unlikely, but if it comes to pass, nothing will save us. We would have to be on an incredible losing streak, losing by large margins in multiple May contests, and in that case, we would have a weak claim on super-delegate support anyways. At that point, we would certainly be in a terrible position for late June contests in F&M if re-votes were scheduled. If we concede F&M today and fall behind by a handful of pledged delegates when the process wraps up in June, we could at least point out (in our private conversations with super-delegates) that Clinton’s “lead” would be statistically insignificant and based on the unfair results of Florida and Michigan, which took place way back in January. If these primaries took place in June and we lost them, there would be nowhere to hide and no way for us to win.

In short, giving Senator Clinton F&M now virtually assures us of the final lead in pledged delegates, avoids a worst case scenario in which we get beaten badly in F&M in late June giving our opponent the final and decisive momentum, and reinforces our core narrative – that your campaign represents a new type of politics and a willingness to rise above engaging bitterly in every single political disagreement that arises. We can be magnanimous and serve our long-term interests at the same time.

We urge you to concede Florida and Michigan to Senator Clinton this week. If the voters in Pennsylvania are impressed by your high-mindedness, it just might secure the nomination for you on April 22, once and for all.

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