THE DENVER POST
Sunday, March 16, 2008DEBUNKING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM:
BROKERED CONVENTION COULD HELP PARTY
By Robert Weiner and John Larmett
Denver may witness a historic Democratic National Convention. There could be more memorable events than Al Gore's smooch of his wife, Bill Clinton giving a speech so uncharacteristically bad that he's joked about it since, Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy rousing the delegates, or George McGovern waiting until 3 a.m. to give an acceptance speech seen by no one.
This time, we may see more than pre-ordained roll calls with a predetermined outcome. In Denver, the convention may actually decide the nominee and the next president.
The conventional wisdom is that such a convention decision — a "brokered" convention — is bad for the party. But let's take a second look.
FDR, one of the party's all-time luminaries, was selected after four ballots. Woodrow Wilson was chosen after 46 ballots. Contrary to what has become the accepted view, Democratic Party history shows the opportunity of election success starting with a convention decision.
If a brokered convention with multiple ballots was good enough for FDR — the party's greatest hero, who was elected president four times — what's the problem with the party today using its established process?
Another conventional view is that if the Clinton-Obama battle goes until the August convention, the party will be hurt for the November general election. Actually, the reverse is likely true. The race continuing until the convention actually allows Democrats to stay in the spotlight, criticizing the Iraq war and tax cuts for the wealthy, while John McCain gains little media attention on his own.
The remaining Democratic candidates will criticize each other, but they will be agreeing on the need to replace Bush-McCain and will come together immediately following the convention. Many of the primaries have been decided in their last two days (New Hampshire, Texas and Ohio, for example), let alone the two months the general election allows.
Moreover, the convention itself will be mandatory for the media to cover — the legitimate news will negate the networks' reduced coverage in previous years because of the argument over minimal relevance.
The brokered convention is becoming a likely scenario. The fact of the matter is that as of now, anyone claiming a "significant" delegate lead is spinning against the basic math. The difference is around 100, according to wire and news counts, essentially nothing given that Pennsylvania has 187 delegates, nationally almost 800 superdelegates can decide either way, and the Michigan and Florida process must be determined for their 313 delegate votes.
Moreover, Democrats must allow Florida and Michigan to have full primary re-votes. For the Democratic Party to ignore those two states — especially since the Republicans in Florida moved the schedule, penalizing the state's millions of Democrats — would be a strategic blunder, potentially costing those states in the general election. Neither Obama nor Clinton can afford to anger Florida and Michigan, let alone bring back memories of the 2000 Florida vote.
We are hopeful that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will keep his word to support a primary re-vote, and that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who joined Crist in a statement saying both states' votes "must count," will follow suit. Thankfully, DNC Chairman Howard Dean has indicated the party will accept a plan by Michigan and Florida to redo the delegate selection.
Democrats should not be afraid to add a little life to the party and the convention this year. They can truly make history — for the party and the nation — and be proud of it.
(In addition to attending and working at every Democratic National Convention since 1972, Weiner served six years as a public affairs director in the White House, 16 years on Capitol Hill as an aide to Congressmen Conyers, Rangel, Pepper, Koch, and Senator Kennedy, and was a DNC staffer at the Watergate HQ in 1971-72. He is now President of Robert Weiner Associates Public Affairs. Larmett, a legislative assistant and press secretary to Rep. Jim McDermott and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, is senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and has attended five Democratic National Conventions.)