Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can Florida and Michigan Democrats Still Play a Role?

As many others did, we followed closely the movement of Florida and Michigan's primaries before the February 5th date mandated by both parties as the first date on which states (other than IA, NH, NV, and SC) could hold sanctioned delegate selection events. Despite stern threats from the national parties (particularly the DNC), Florida and Michigan were determined to move up their primaries to assure that they had more say in who would eventually become each party's nominee. Well, it only half-worked. Michigan and Florida have certainly played an important role in the Republican nomination battle, but this is because the RNC only stripped half of those states delegates. The DNC, on the other hand, stripped Michigan and Florida of any delegates that were selected prior to February 5th. As a result, those contests have not received much, if any, news attention and in a nomination battle that looks like it will come down to a war over every last delegate, Florida and Michigan Democrats have no delegates to offer. Ironically, these states moved up their primaries to have a greater say in the process, yet they have been entirely ignored by the Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton's recent statements not withstanding). And in a race that will go on through and beyond February 5th, it seems as though both states would have had a much greater role in the nomination process if they had held their events later rather than earlier.

But is all really lost for Michigan and Florida Democrats? As far as I understand DNC rules, it doesn't have to be. After all, the DNC will still recognize any delegates selected at events held on or after February 5th. Consider this possibility: if neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has wrapped up a majority of delegates by the end of February or beginning of March, there would still be plenty of time for the Michigan and Florida state Democratic parties to schedule and hold caucuses or party-run primaries that could take place in April or May (there is no way the states are going to pay for a second primary day, so these would have to be party-sponsored events). Given the large number of delegates that would be at stake in both of those states, they could determine who wins the nomination...and they would do so not by going early, but by going late. This option is not really being discussed by the news media, but I think it is out there as a possibility that Michigan and Florida's Democratic parties could pursue, if they chose to. (There is a precedent for holding two events, with only one counting...in 2004, DC held a non-binding primary before the DNC sanctioned window and then the real delegate selection event later).

Would the Michigan and Florida Democratic parties do this? If they did, wouldn't this help Clinton and hurt Obama (given that Clinton seems to have a lot of support in both states and was the candidate most supportive of their efforts to hold earlier primaries)? Is there anything that could stop the Michigan and Florida parties from doing this?

UPDATE: You can find the DNC's Delegate selection rules here.

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