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Spoiling the Party: Clinton and the Michigan and Florida Votes

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Dave Lindorff

Let’s at least make one thing clear: Hillary Clinton’s claim that she is ahead in the popular vote for the Democratic nomination, based upon her having “won” the renegade “primaries” in Michigan and Florida, is both nonsense and potentially fatally destructive of the Democratic campaign.

First the nonsense. In both states, because the local parties decided to hold primaries out of order and much earlier than scheduled by the Democratic National Committee, those votes did not count, and the delegates chosen will not be counted at the August convention.

In Michigan, Obama honored the rules of the game and asked that his name be removed from the ballot. Clinton, already plotting for a fall-back scheme, left her name on the ballot (her campaign disingenuously claimed they “forgot” to remove it). So it was Hillary against Nobody. Even so, Nobody did pretty well back on Jan. 15, grabbing 40 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 55 percent. Moreover, turnout was an abysmal 20 percent. Clearly most Democrats and independents (who in Michigan, unlike in Pennsylvania, were allowed to vote in either party’s primary) didn’t bother to even go to the polls. It’s safe to assume that the Clinton machine in Michigan was quietly encouraging its backers to go cast ballots, too, while Nobody didn’t have any campaign staff, and so could not do that, so even Clinton’s numbers, such as they are, are questionable. The idea that the results of that joke of a primary could be counted, and that the delegates and vote totals could be assigned to the Clinton column is beyond preposterous.

Florida, where another renegade primary was held on on January 29, is not all that different. In that case, turnout was still low—just 34 percent,--but unlike in other “real” primaries, where Democrats were consistently turning out in numbers that swamped Republican turnout, in Florida, more Republicans participated than Democrats. That makes it clear that many Democrats simply stayed home, knowing that they were wasting their time voting for a presidential choice. Clearly too, overall turnout was as high as it was not because of the presidential primary, but because there was a controversial and hotly contested measure also on the ballot, and it did count: a proposal to change the state’s constitution to increase the homestead tax exemption (it passed by a 2:1 margin). Again, this vote indicates that most primary participants were Republican, since more Democrats were opposing the deduction, because it cuts funds for schools and other services, and more Democrats tend to be renters, for whom the exemption would be no benefit. Both Clinton’s and Obama’s names were on the ballot in Florida, but while Obama honored a DNC request not to campaign there, Clinton made a last minute, highly publicized dash to the state before the voting, putting in an appearance at a fund-raising event and getting her name and face in the media. Even with this unfair edge, Clinton only won 49.7 percent of the votes, compared to Obama’s 33 percent. But even that result is unreliable because John Edwards’ name was still on the ballot too, and he garnered 14.4 percent. Arguably, many of his votes, in a real primary later in the season, would have gone to Obama. In any case, it is clear that this was not a valid measure of sentiment among the state’s Democratic voters. Clinton, in January, was already a well-known figure, while Obama was still new and unknown, and without any campaigning, it is understandable that voters who did show up at the polls would vote for someone they knew.

I’ve talked with Florida residents—very politically active people who would not miss a primary—who said they stayed home on Jan. 29. As one (a Clinton supporter as it happens) said, “Why go to all that trouble to vote when it doesn’t count?” Given that this must have been a widespread sentiment, how can anyone say that the vote that was conducted should now be counted? Again, as in Michigan, it would be more unfair to count that election than to ignore it.

The Clinton machine is demanding that Michigan and Florida voters and delegates be counted. If they were, she’d be competitive in delegates (Obama wouldn’t even get any from Michigan, which is absurd on its face!) and could claim to have an edge in the national popular vote, but it would be a sham. Everyone, however, would know this to be a sham. If she went on to win the nomination, everyone would know it was a fraud. Many Democrats and independents would abandon her and the party, and the election would go to McCain.

It seems obvious that this desperate gambit by Clinton—one which her campaign has been planning on since the beginning—is a scorched-earth strategy designed to get her the nomination at all costs, including the cost of insuring a Republican victory in November. The media love the idea, however, since, like the continuing pointless campaign in the remaining primary states, is boosting TV ratings just like a World Wrestling “Smackdown” program.

If the Democratic Party were, in the end, to allow the counting of these two unsanctioned, and uncontested primaries to determine the party’s nominee, and if the result were to reverse the decision of the voters in the legitimate primaries and caucuses, it would be the end of the Democratic Party as we know it.

Hey, hold on! Now I’m thinking maybe this might be a good idea after all!

Hmmmm. Here’s an idea: Say Clinton manages to bully party leaders into allowing the Michigan and Florida sham primaries to count, and she “wins” the party’s nomination. She would then face McCain, who is himself unpopular among certain factions of the Republican Party—notably the Huckabee populists, and the Paul libertarians.

Suppose then that Obama, who has already demonstrated his strong appeal among young and minority Democrats and among independents, and who has also demonstrated a remarkable fundraising ability from individual contributors, were to announce that he’s running as an independent Third Party candidate, or perhaps as the nominee of some existing third party—say the Reform Party.

He might just go on to win that three-way race, and in the process reshape the nation’s sorry political system.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is ‘The Case for Impeachment’ (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net
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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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