Saturday, March 08, 2008

Primaries Colored (the nomination process explained)

Folks are in over their heads.

The presence of two novel candidates for president on the Democratic side have led to big numbers in votes at the polls this political season and big dollops of confusion at how things work.

After Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won the Wyoming caucus today, Clinton supporters from coast-to-coast were worked into a wrist-flapping dither over the short-lived momentum from their candidate's victories just four days ago.

Taking cues from Sen. Clinton herself, they are attacking caucuses as undemocratic and misleading as to the direction of a given state's political leaning. They are furious at the "proportional" allocation of delegates in primaries, which rendered Texas and Ohio impotent at closing the delegate gap with Obama.

the highway scribe is here to tell you that, in spite of its name, the national Democratic Party's nomination process is not nearly as democratic as the general election. One is run and paid for by the Democratic Party and designed to meets its needs. The other is paid for by taxpayer dollars and designed to meet theirs.

You see children, you may be registered as a Democrat on your state rolls, but if you don't go to local Democratic Club meetings, work in a public sector trade union, or slave for an elected official, then you are naught but a mere conditional invitee to somebody else's soiree.

The Democratic Party is like a country club and the people who do the most work, pay for things, and make sitting through deadly boring meetings a considerable facet of their legacy, get to approach the dais and make the big decisions.

That's what super-delegates are. They are the party. It's their thing and in spite of your well-thought out sentiments on this candidate or that, they'll do in the end what they want with it.

Then there are the delegates Clinton and Obama are battling to place at the convention. Here's how that works. Say you work in a teachers' union and you like Hillary Clinton and have even met her before. When the political season comes around the local or state Democratic organizations ask the candidate to assemble a list of potential delegates, prioritized.

As a teachers union rank-and-filer, you might end up number five on the list after the president of that union's local, the county supervisor, a city councilwoman, the county labor federation boss, and some other hack.

They submit the list. When registered Democrats go to vote in primaries, they pull the lever for the candidate, but what they are really doing is voting for the list. Once the votes are tallied and Hillary gets 60 percent, well then, 60 percent of the people on the Hillary list become delegates to the convention.

They are people who live, eat, and breathe Hillary. They will not be supporting the other person at the convention unless somebody offers them a bridge to nowhere in their district, which is something that happens up in Alaska.

Caucuses are even more closed, as you have all seen. That's where the people who sit in the boring meetings do almost all of the voting, plus some other folks they know they can count on to do the right thing thrown in to pump up the numbers.

All these state entities have charters or certificates which seat them at the larger Democratic National Convention where nominees are chosen, but a lot of other important party work is done, too.

The Democratic National Committee sets the rules and if they tell you there are too many primaries too early in the season, you need to put yours somewhere else, or you're not invited to the party.

Florida and Michigan were not invited to the party and their electoral affairs were neither sanctioned nor conducted even to the measly standards listed above. So they don't count. And the candidate who signed the same pledge as everyone else to stand by the national committee's decision, or pay the consequences, doesn't get any delegates from those two places. Simple as that.

These aforementioned mechanical realities are why when Hillary Clinton proclaims momentum after winning her first primaries in a month, you have to take it with a grain of salt because the delegate lists in Wyoming are set, and the people on them have their supporters lined up.

Which is what is awaiting her in Mississippi, too. So set in stone are these logistics that we can say with certainty what will happen.

Caucuses don't care about spin from either campaign or media interpretations thereon. Only the family really knows what is going on inside the family.

That is why this writer has spent a lot of time explaining to the few who will open their ears that 100-plus delegates is a ton of delegates when you are talking about a closed convention.

And the highway scribe means CLOSED. Try walking onto the floor at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August without a delegate's badge and see how far you get.

In 2000, the scribe covered the event in Los Angeles, snuck in, and took an empty seat with folks in the Hawaii delegation. It was Kennedy night. Caroline and Ted were speaking in that order. George Stephanopolous was near the stage. He had sweat on his brow and looked pretty short. Caroline looked cute as all get-out. Teddy Kennedy was about to speak, but somebody grabbed the scribe by the neck and removed him bodily, not only from the floor, but from the arena itself. Still don't know what Kennedy said.

It used to be worse, but sixties radicals busted some doors down and got the primaries up and running. If you don't like all of this, and you don't like the way Clinton is losing, you can start your own party.

And she is losing. Obama netted a two-delegate advantage in Wyoming, but this thing's not open-ended. The other five delegates with which she matched him represent five more superdelegates he won't have to woo that Clinton will, as the finish line draws nearer and the available numbers dwindle.

What we have this season are the Clinton clique, something of a party within the party, being defeated, much to their shock, and to that of most observers, too.

Folks hoping to demean Obama as naught but a Chicago pol are right-on regarding the characterization, but not as to the negative patina they are trying to burnish.

The young senator saw something in the nominating process nobody else has seen for quite some time and exploited it, going into small states his opponents viewed as unimportant and picking up boatloads of delegates.

It's been strikingly like the Republican national map in general elections which sees Democrats win a few big splotches of blue in a sea of lost victorious red. It's so obvious a strategy we could say Obama wasn't so smart, were he not so smart.

Did he game the system? Of course, which is what campaigns do. It's just that one does it better than all the rest and wins. Ron Paul made good money on the Internet. Clinton convinced the media elite she was inevitable. Mitt Romney rallied corporate titans to his pretty face and John McCain waited a long time for his turn at the top of the Republican machine.

Obama has done all of the above, except wait his turn.

How could the Clintons have let it happen?

Well, they have always been media-focused what with their war-rooms and "on-message" mantras. They knew how to finance and script television buys in big states while Obama kept it close and then played where you have to show up someplace other than the network advertising office.

And only in the new light of this campaign season is it safe now to suggest the Clintons were not all that beloved with party apparatchiks as they led us to believe (from those war-rooms).

Is this all right and good?

For the most part. These "big state" victories certainly do take the measure of more casual voters who don't live, eat, and breathe politics. They are individuals and the foundation of both our system and culture. And they have been heard.

Once Obama is president, he will mostly do photo-ops with individuals, though certainly not in traditional Arab-influenced garb.

The rest of the time he'll be meeting with the heads of institutions with their own rules, preferences, and processes. The young senator's understanding of how his own party works, his ability to best a powerful group of people who thought it their personal feud, bodes well for that part of the job that requires the sizing up of a leader present before him, as well as the institution that person leads.

And finally, it bodes well for the Democratic Party which, for all its shortcomings, has said "no" to the idea of two families ruling this country over a 32-year interregnum as if our founding fathers approved of dynasties.

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