The talking heads on MSNBC and CNN had a mind-meld Tuesday night: Hillary Clinton threw “the kitchen sink” at Barack Obama, and her negativity paid off big time. She won Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, by large margins in two of three states, while losing Vermont. That sets up what they all pretend is a nightmare, but it’s really a hot media fantasy: Mutant Superdelegates Pick Nominee!
Cable television ratings aside, let’s all hope it doesn’t go there.
First of all, let’s take the stories apart. After 11 losses in a row, Clinton won three impressive victories in big, diverse states. The “kitchen sink strategy” analysis is silly. The Nevada and South Carolina races were arguably nastier. Yet over and over Tuesday night, the talking heads lumped together a supposedly toxic trifecta of NAFTA, Rezko and “the 3 a.m. ad” as having carried the day for a newly nasty Clinton. But in fact, only the 3 a.m. ad — you saw it, the White House Terror Phone ringing when your adorable kids are asleep — was Clinton’s debatable creation. The NAFTA gaffe was entirely the Obama camp’s doing, when they failed to figure out what economics guru Austin Goolsbee told the Canadians, and when. And Clinton didn’t decree that the trial of Tony Rezko would begin March 3. On the other hand, Obama is still ahead in delegates, he’s still the likely nominee, and while he’s had a bad week, he’s run a great campaign until now. The notion that he has to panic or suddenly change course seems silly.
Still, as much as I’ve tried to swat away the specter of superdelegates deciding the convention, because I’ve believed ultimately one candidate, probably Obama, would get a decisive voter and delegate majority, I have to admit it’s looming as a larger worry. It will be extremely hard for Clinton to close Obama’s lead in pledged delegates, but it will also be hard for Obama to win the number of delegates he needs to decisively win without superdelegates. Lately I find myself wondering: Why aren’t more powerful Democrats in both the Obama and Clinton camps lobbying for a revote in Florida and Michigan? Is it simply about money? Sure, it would be expensive, but both candidates are raising money phenomenally.
And sure, the party would like to save some of that Democratic cash to fight John McCain in November. But I have to wonder, what’s worse for Democrats: A protracted battle that results in a near-tie, with superdelegates carrying the day in Denver (leaving plenty of cash to fight McCain but one camp or the other furious), or a party whose coffers are maybe depleted (though I can’t imagine that), but whose supporters know that democracy, though expensive, prevailed.
I’m not sure I can answer that question, but my gut tells me it’s the latter: a cash-poor party whose candidate emerged victorious after being tested in all 50 states. It’s possible even that the new two-state contest would result in a draw, but at least then we’d have a resolution to the Florida/Michigan delegate crisis. I don’t think the party can fairly seat the delegates Clinton won in both states; I also don’t think the party can simply refuse to seat two huge states’ delegates under any conditions. My guess is we’ll hear more about this in the days to come (as I was writing, Walter Shapiro filed a fascinating piece, which touches on the same issue toward the end). What do you all think? Let me know in comments, and be patient if I don’t reply tomorrow: I’m traveling to New Orleans early Wednesday for a conference on Equitable Development, Social Justice and Smart Growth, where Tavis Smiley hosts a panel on keeping poverty issues front and center in the presidential race on Friday, and I’ll be blogging from there. It’s good timing: Visiting New Orleans (my first trip since Katrina, I’m sad to say) should keep the right issues at the forefront as I think about how the Democrats move forward.