Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) has asked voters -- Democrats, independents and Republicans -- to see him as a unifying force, a once-in-a-lifetime politician who can overcome the partisan divide and change politics in Washington. He presents a bold vision.
Unfortunately, Obama has failed in his first test to unify his own party. His campaign has failed to recognize the results of the Florida primary -- and Michigan -- for political gain over his opponent, a decision that could disgruntle Democratic voters in Florida in November and years beyond.
The Democratic National Committee, led by Howard Dean, got caught in a trap set by Florida Republicans and has been trying to escape it ever since. The Republican-run Florida Legislature rammed through a bill to move up Florida's primary.
Democratic legislators had little power to stop the bill, and they wound up endorsing the bill when it included a verifiable paper trail for elections. The move violated both the rules of the DNC and the Republican National Committee.
Florida Democrats had been fighting for a paper trail ever since the 2000 election debacle with its hanging "chads." This was a win for them. The DNC chose not to see it that way, and its rules committee decided the only appropriate action was a "scorched earth" strategy. They refused to recognize the result of an early primary for breaking the rules, and thus denying the state delegates. The RNC, on the other hand, docked Florida only half of its delegates. The primary put Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) on track to win the nomination.
The DNC did not treat other offenders in similar fashion. Wayne Barrett, writing at
The Huffington Post
, noticed that not all Democrats received equal treatment:
"Back in June, a DNC spokeswoman, for example, told The Associated Press that neither Dean nor the Rules Committee "has the power to waive the rules for any state," explaining that "these rules can be changed only by the full DNC." Yet a few months later, on the same day that the Rules Committee stripped Michigan of its delegates, it waived the rules for New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, each of which had also moved up their primaries."
The DNC appears to have chosen to treat Florida and Michigan voters differently.
Democratic voters in Florida ignored the edict from the DNC and showed up to vote in great numbers. About 1.7 million Democrats voted, easily eclipsing the Republican turnout by several hundred thousand. Clinton trounced Obama by 300,000 votes. Neither candidate had campaigned in the state, though Obama had a big win in South Carolina a few days before. His campaign also ran national cable ads seen in the Florida; Clinton did not run ads there.
Obviously, it remains in Obama's best interest to ignore the result because Clinton would get the benefit of catching up to him in both pledged delegates and the popular vote count. Obama has chosen to ignore the voters. This contradicts the efforts of many activists in the Democratic Party who have pushed for voting reform and greater transparency in our democracy.
His campaign has consistently said that the DNC is following rules and that rules matter. His campaign has made no positive effort to resolve the situation, whether it be a revote or calling for Florida's delegates to count based on the actual primary result. The Obama campaign appears less concerned about it than the DNC. It provokes the question: Is he really the candidate who will change Washington, or is he just another candidate playing the political game?
Chairman Dean has publicly expressed concern because of the effect the decision might have on congressional races in Florida. Furthermore, the DNC issued a ruling to make it more likely the delegates will be seated at the convention. The convention credentials committee will decide the delegates' fate. The DNC recently ruled that the committee would include members from both Florida and Michigan, making it more likely to vote in favor of seating the two states at the convention.
The DNC is working its way out of the trap. Will Obama follow its lead anytime soon? He may want to take some action or face the wrath of Florida voters in the fall. A
taken in Florida shows that as many as 25% of Florida voters will stay at home in the fall if the result does not count. That spells defeat for Democrats in the state.
(To see more of John Fout's political commentary,
Obama already polls much worse than Clinton in Florida vs. McCain, and it will be difficult to win the general election without Florida.
this last week.Florida Republicans have already used the DNC ruling as a campaign issue there in January and almost certainly plan to do so again.
Obama has a dilemma: Face criticism in a critical swing state where he's in essence supporting disenfranchising Democrats because of a Republican ploy and against securing a verifiable paper trail for elections or recognize the results of the primary. The former choice places Democrats in a poor position for years to come in Florida.