Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Endgame?

This post is just me thinking out loud. The Democrats are going to nominate someone for president in 2008. But how does that endgame come about?

The math is still simple -- the winner needs a majority out of the 4,048 delegates. But most observers believe that, absent unusual circumstances, neither candidate will have a majority. This post shows a good example.

There are two circumstances that will determine the nominee: Florida/Michigan and John Edwards.

Florida/Michigan: Hillary easily won both states because Obama/Edwards failed to campaign in either state and weren't even on the ballot in Michigan. There are 367 delegates that will not be seated and there are calls for revotes.

If Michigan wanted to be Machiavellian, it would not hold a revote under any circumstances. If the nominee has been decided by the convention, their delegates will be seated as a matter of course. But lets say the following occurs: the Michigan results stand and the delegation is seated. Now there are 55 delegates in the mix who are officially uncommitted. As a bloc, those delegates are twice as large as Edwards' group. Michigan would be the subject of the most intense convention campaigning since Pennsylvania in 1976.*

* This is a Pozterisk. Enjoy. In 1976, Reagan offered the vice-presidency to Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker. It was a bold and gutsy move, but backfired because it alienated Jesse Helms, a Reagan supporter, and it failed to have its intended effect. Reagan made Schweiker his running mate in order to break the PA delegation in his favor, but he made the mistake of announcing the move three weeks prior to the convention in Kansas City. James Baker, the head of the Ford campaign, used that time to work the PA delegation. Suddenly, obscure precinct committeemen, who barely rated a form letter, were being invited to the White House. Had Ford beaten Carter, there is little doubt that PA would have made off like a bandit in Ford's first budget. We can only imagine the promises that Hillary would make to those 55 delegates -- federal pork would quickly replace auto manufacturing as Michigan's chief industry. And Obama would be forced to decide if he was willing to play the same game.

Edwards: His decision will not be as important as what happens with Florida/Michigan, but has the potential to be decisive.

While Blugold Matt may not look to Edwards for guidance, his delegates likely will. While his endorsement has a decreasing ability to affect the popular votes -- most Dem voters have probably forgotten that he exists and are firmly in the Obama or Hillary camps -- his delegates take on increasing importance as the race goes down to the wire. If those 26 delegates are all that stand between either candidate getting the nomination, Edwards becomes the super of all the superdelegates. His delegates are going to feel loyalty to him and will likely vote according to his endorsement.

Best case scenario: The fate of the Michigan and Florida primaries are decided in the next several weeks in a process that satisfies both candidates and the DNC and the results are known well in advance of the convention. The nominee is known in advance of a peaceful convention.

Worst case scenario: After the Montana/South Dakota primaries on June 3, the nominee is still not known. Both campaigns are unable to agree on a revote for MI and FL and Obama refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the results and will not support any effort to recognize either state's delegation. The political wires from June until late August are filled with the Obama and Clinton campaigns feuding about MI/FL with the rhetoric becoming increasingly heated while McCain uses this time to fundraise and quietly campaign. The delegates are eventually seated after a nasty floor fight -- broadcast live on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS. Even after those delegates are added, there is still no nominee. The convention is pure chaos compared to the GOP a week later. Selecting a keynote speaker becomes a major hassle as neither campaign wants to have the spotlight shining so brightly on a speaker who publicly supports the other. Edwards becomes the kingmaker and the media hounds him with a paparazzi-like intensity that would make Britney Spears jealous. Rumors abound of what Edwards is demanding -- everything ranging from becoming a vice-president with Cheney-like powers to Attorney General to outlandishly demanding the top spot on the ticket -- and rumors of another Corrupt Bargain abound.The nominee finally wins over Edwards support, but is weakened by the months of negative campaigning and the public's distaste for Edwards serving as the super-duper-delegate and McCain leaves the Twin Cities with a 8-to-10 point lead in the polls.

Florida/Michigan and Edwards will almost certainly choose the Democratic nominee. The only issue is how quickly Howard Dean can get the first one resolved. There aren't a ton of good options for the DNC head, but he has limited power. His power comes from his grassroots and not the back room wheelers and dealers. So Dean has little ability to come up with a solution and strong-arm the campaigns into going along. Until he finds a way to do that, the worst case scenario might be his legacy.