The Public Eye: Campaign 2008: Act III

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday March 18, 2008

The March 11 Mississippi primaries signaled the end of the second of four acts in the competition for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Act I began on Jan. 5 with the Iowa caucuses and ended on Jan. 26 with the South Carolina primary, where the race was winnowed down to Sens. Clinton and Obama. Act II began on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, and plodded on for five weeks. Act III begins with the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 and ends on June 3 or possibly later if Florida and Michigan have to revote. Act IV will be the convention beginning Aug. 25, where the nominee will be selected. 

For many of us, the past 11 weeks have been a rollercoaster ride. If you are an Obama fan, you were exhilarated by his victory in Iowa and his string of victories from Feb. 5 to March 4. If you are a Clinton devotee, you were thrilled when she fought back from the brink of defeat in New Hampshire and Texas. 

So far 2,687 delegates have been selected: Obama has 1,403 and Clinton 1,239. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to win and the remaining contests feature 566. Even if the 366 delegates from Florida and Michigan are reselected—a prospect that seems increasingly likely—it is improbable that either Clinton or Obama will secure the nomination before the convention. 

Obama leads in all the important metrics: pledged delegates, total popular vote, and states won. It is likely that when the Denver Democratic convention convenes on Aug. 25, his ranking will be unchanged. 

Why then does Clinton continue to pursue the Democratic nomination? An obvious answer is that in politics, as in sports, the game isn’t over until it is over. There exists the possibility that Obama may commit some dreadful gaffe that would see his popularity plummet and send delegates scurrying to her camp. But given how coolly Obama has handled himself to this point, that prospect seems increasingly unlikely. 

Another answer is that Clinton’s supporters believe she has more experience than does Obama—particularly political sophistication gained as the wife of former President Bill Clinton—and would match up better with the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain. However, this argument has not proven effective—Obama has questioned both her experience and her judgment—and most polls suggest Obama does better against McCain than does Clinton. 

In recent days, the Clinton campaign, faced with the prospect of an insurmountable Obama lead and, therefore, a seemingly inevitable Obama victory, has marshaled a new argument: the rules aren’t fair. Senator Clinton and her surrogates have asserted the traditional metrics—raw numbers of delegates won, votes cast, and states carried—are not the proper basis for the final selection of the Democratic nominee. The Clinton campaign contends some states are more important than others and, therefore, the votes of these states should have more impact. Thus Ms. Clinton speaks of Ohio, which she won, having more importance than Virginia, which he won. 

Following this line of reasoning, the Clintonistas posit that if Hillary Clinton wins Pennsylvania, the last big primary state, then she should be awarded the Democratic nomination because she will have won the states that count. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.) 

For many of us the posture of the Hillary Clinton campaign is an unhappy reminder of concerns we had about the Bill Clinton presidency: that, on occasion, he didn’t play by the rules. That isn’t to say that Bill or Hillary Clinton are immoral, but rather that they sometimes appear to have “situational” ethics where their decisions are made on the basis of political expediency rather than on principle. For example, it’s hard to imagine that Senator Clinton voted to authorize President Bush– someone she surely recognized as a demagogue—to go to war in Iraq on the basis of anything other than a pragmatic calculation that to do so would enhance her perception as a “tough” leader. 

Some Democratic leaders, such as Speaker of the House Pelosi, are beginning to be concerned about Clinton’s desire to win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination no matter the cost, no matter what damage is inflicted on the party. Regardless of our feelings about the candidates, all Democrats should be concerned about the Clinton campaign’s seeming unwillingness to play by the rules. 

Will Rogers famously quipped, “I am not a member of any organized Party—I am a Democrat.” The quarrel about delegates threatens to divide Democrats, to cause them to lose focus on the ultimate goal: victory in the November elections. 

No Democrat relishes the notion of five more months of the Clinton campaign grousing that they want to change the rules of the game. Unless Hillary Clinton wins the April 22 Pennsylvania primary by a decisive margin—two to one—party leaders must intervene and tell her that the competition is over and for the good of the party she must concede. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at