After yesterday's explosive discussion on delegates and a brokered convention here on Open Left, I've been talking to some party insiders to try and get a better handle on the situation. Here is what I can report:
- When Matt joked yesterday about preparing for "a party platform fight over mandates as a test of delegate strength," he was actually pretty on target. The fight over delegates will occur on three main committees: the platform committee, the credentials committee, and the rules committee. The fact is that right now there is not system in place to select delegates from Michigan and Florida, but the fight will encompass those three committees.
- The rules committee is dominated by Clinton supporters, even though it was the rules committee that stripped the Michigan and Florida primaries as the means to select delegates from those two states. Be prepared for a change of direction from the rules committee. As James Boyce wrote yesterday: "[n]ote to Obama supporters, you better have enough delegates to win with those [Michigan and Florida] counting for Hillary, trust me on this. In fact, lawyer up now." Indeed, trust him on this one.
- If Obama is going to turn back the rules committee, the credentials committee is the place where he needs to make his stand. That committee is, I believe, composed of three members from each state and all of the territories holding nomination contests (D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Democrats Abroad, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). An additional twenty-five members are chosen by the presumptive nominee or, in the absence of a presumptive nominee, by Howard Dean himself. As such, this committee should be significantly less friendly to the Michigan and Florida demands from the Clinton campaign. I believe that the winner of each contest chooses the three members from each state and territory on the committee, but it isn't clear to me what "winner" means. For example, who won Nevada: Clinton who had the most state delegates, or Obama, who is projected to have the most national delegates? Even if that will be determined at a later date, then who won New Hampshire? Clinton won a plurality of the popular vote, the two campaigns were tied in pledged delegates, and Obama leads in the overall delegation from New Hampshire when super delegates are included. Still, since it seems Obama has a strong edge in smaller states and contests today, this committee should be favorable to him.
- The Clinton campaign is trying to use super delegates as a firewall, so any hope of a deal on that front should also be scrapped (just as any hope for an early deal on Michigan and Florida should also be scrapped). From my perspective, it is of utmost importance that the Democratic nominee be the candidate who won the most votes and popular caucus support during the January 3rd to June 3rd nominating contests. I also think it is foolish to assume that super delegates will simply line up behind Obama if he narrowly wins the most pledged delegates (even with Michigan and Florida included), as long as Clinton can still win the nomination with the support of super delegates. As such, I think it is up to us to start a pressure campaign on super delegates to support whoever wins the most pledged delegates and popular support. This means to stop counting super delegates in delegate totals immediately, to emphasize the greater democratic value of pledged delegates, and to emphasize the notion that no Democratic nominee is the legitimate choice of the party's rank and file unless s/he wins the most pledged delegates (popular votes would be even better, of course, but some states are not counting the popular vote). We need to let the party's leaders know that anything else is unacceptable.
This is a murky process, and I will have more later today. I'm surprised at the interest my post generated yesterday, but let me just say that I'm not the only Democrat who sees a teetering mound of flaming wreckage appearing on the horizon. The Clinton campaign is not going to budge on either super delegates or their preferred mechanism for the seating of Michigan and Florida delegates, and they have a lot of insider support to get their way on both. It is up to us to make sure that the party has a legitimate nominee, and the will of the party's primary voters and caucus participants is not thwarted. Howard Dean needs to show some leadership on this one, too.
Update: The composition of the platform, rules, and credentials committees can be seen here. Also, commenter joejoejoe has more.