Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Primary Must Go On

The following post is adapted from a recent email conversation I initiated on one of my school listservs:

Based on an informal survey of emails that I've seen posted online recently (it didn’t take rocket science), the majority of speakers seem inclined to think that Obama’s nomination is inevitable at this point. I disagree, but I think everyone knows I’m not an impartial observer on this one.

A few comments:

#1: Thus far, the Democratic Party primary has been most notable for the fact that it is (not entirely, but at least mostly), a truly democratic election and the candidates have remained pretty civil towards each other all things considered (especially compared to the full-on body slamming that McCain and Romney were engaging in during the Republican primary debates). Sure, those of us in New York might be experiencing election fatigue, but imagine what it’s like to be a resident of Indiana or North Carolina right now. Primary votes are usually worth less than the paper they’re printed on in those states, and in a few days residents there have the chance to have a major say in picking the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

#2: I think McCain is a formidable candidate no matter when the Democrats pick a nominee. However, if the long primary were really hurting the Democrats’ chances of beating McCain in the general election, then McCain should have been able to raise more money while the Democrats fight it out. Instead, he’s had to commit to public financing because he can’t raise enough on his own. There’s also an advantage to holding off on picking the nominee because so long as there are two candidates on the Democratic side McCain doesn’t know who to target. Finally, at least in Obama's case, there's an advantage to being fully vetted by the Democrats and going through a rough patch now before he faces the barrage of attacks that are sure to come his way in the the general election.

#3: Fighting an uphill battle and having no chance to win the nomination at all are two very different things. Hillary right now is engaged in the former kind of race, not the latter. With a win in Indiana and a narrow margin of defeat for her in North Carolina – both of which are realistic outcomes – Hillary makes a convincing argument why she should be the nominee, while Obama’s claim to the nomination will lose the shine it had before the Pennsylvania primary. (If Hillary loses both Indiana and North Carolina then she will certainly be in a weaker position to go on). Yes, it will be up to the superdelegates to select the ultimate nominee, and yes, they might contravene the “will of the pledged delegates.” But, that was exactly what the Democratic Party intended when it decided that a mere majority of pledged delegates would not be significant enough to win a primary if no candidate reached a certain threshold of pledged delegates.

#4: Obama doesn’t really need more money for his campaign right now - he already has plenty in his coffers. If you want your contributions to make a difference (and a donation to the Hillary campaign isn’t an option ), then I’d suggest donating to a charity rather than a political campaign. Seriously. If there’s one thing that’s blown my mind in this election, it’s the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent that could have gone to other causes.

Here is some of the (summarized) feedback I received as well as my own responses (This is an "Awake at All Hours Exclusive" since I never sent my responses out to the listserv):

#1: Aren't you contradicting yourself by first praising the primary process for being so democratic, and then saying that the superdelegates should go with Hillary even if she doesn't have the majority of pledged delegates?

No. The role of the primary voters is to indicate who they want as the president. Each state then divides its "pledged delegates" among the Democratic candidates in proportion to the votes that each candidate received in their respective primary. The Democratic party made a decision in the 1980s that when no candidate reaches a somewhat arbitrary threshold of 2,025 pledged delegates (not counting Florida and Michigan's tally) then the superdelegates had to make up the difference so that one candidate could reach the threshold and secure the nomination. The superdelegates were not created as a majoritarian body, and while they may consider which candidate has the majority of pledged delegates they are not bound to. Super delegates can also consider other important factors, such as which candidate has greater momentum going into the general election and which candidate has a stronger base of support, as well as nonimportant factors, such as which candidate is more likely to win a game of head-to-head Trivial Pursuit. The point is that superdelegates can decide who to support for any reason or no reason at all. You can criticize the candidates if you disagree with their positions, but you can't criticize the candidates for playing within the rules of the system that the Democratic party set up.

#2: I'm a Democrat, but if Hillary wins I may just stay home in November because of the image I now have of her.

That's an unfortunate response and I've heard variations of it from people supporting both camps.
I also think it's unlikely that many voters will act on this threat once the general election comes around. In reality, the policy differences between Hillary and Obama are small, so Democrats who traditionally support the party's platform should be able to unite behind the eventual nominee. Also, while no one is obligated to exercise their right to vote, boycotting an election is generally an ineffective way to impact policy or political change.

#3: Why is making contributions to Hillary's campaign more worthwhile than making a contribution to Obama's campaign? All she's going to do is spend it on commercials advertising her tax holiday, canceling her debt owed to Mark Penn or pay off the $5 million in debt her campaign owes to her.

For people who aren't Hillary supporters I would definitely not encourage them to contribute to her campaign. At this point, however, Hillary needs the money to continue getting her message across to voters and to pay off the debt that her campaign has incurred so making a contribution to her campaign would make a difference in terms of her ability to get the nomination. Obama on the other hand - and he deserves major kudos for this - has not incurred debt and has enough money to carry him through the end of the primary season on June 3rd while still outspending Hillary on advertising. For that reason, I believe that contributing money to a charitable organization will have a greater net impact on bringing positive change than would contributing to Obama's campaign.