Obama Has to Gamble on Florida and Michigian

Washington Matters

Obama Has to Gamble on Florida and Michigian

Barack Obama and his supporters would have every right to fight tooth and nail against efforts to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan at this year's national convention. After all, the rules and consequences were clear to the two states before their primaries were held and to the Democratic candidates, who all agreed to back the party's stand. But instead of digging in their heels and risking a damaging internecine war that could rip the party apart, Obama and his campaign have accepted the notion that the states should be represented. That's a good thing -- even if it ends up costing him the nomination.   

The pledged delegates at stake are unlikely to change the delegate math very much. Even if Clinton were to win  Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the last scheduled big state primary, by the same 10-point margin that she had in Ohio, Obama would lead in pledged delegates. But Clinton would have a strong case to make to the superdelegates that the momentum had swung  her way -- and that she had won in every large state.

So why take the risk on new primaries?  Ever since it was clear the race would be a two-person delegate-by-delegate brawl, one of Obama's most consistent and powerful arguments has been that the will of the people should be respected. If he picked up more pledged delegates in the voting but fell short of what he needed to win outright, the superdelegates should recognize that more voters in the party supported him and they should side with them. To argue against giving all voters a say under fair and clearly understood rules would contradict that argument, even if it means allowing Clinton and her backers to change the rules in the middle of the game.

And right now, what Obama must do more than anything is to be consistent with his principles and the larger goals of his campaign, no matter what the risk. That doesn't just apply to the delegate mess, of course. Obama has staked his campaign on the concept that Americans of all stripes and political bent are exhausted by the partisan fever that has gripped Washington for well over a decade and are thirsting for a different, less divisive kind of leadership. New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested Friday that Obama's entire rationale for his campaign collapses if he doesn't resist the urge to combat Clinton with the same negative tactics that she has been using of late -- tactics that apparently helped her win in Ohio and Texas and revive her campaign. If Obama let's the overarching purpose of his campaign be obscured by throwing mud back at Clinton, what appeared to be a noble principle would end up being no more than a forgettable slogan and empty tactic.

Obama is clearly -- and legitimately -- anxious about the prospect of re-votes in Florida and Michigan, the preference of the governors in both of those states. One idea being floated by the Obama campaign would be to split the delegates from those states 50-50. That's a seemingly tidy solution that gives the states representation without changing the character of the overall nominating race and doesn't reward the silly rule-breaking behavior of state parties, an important principle, too.

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But that doesn't go far enough to match Obama's vision. After all, the only real test of whether voters want change from politics is to let them actually vote.