10 March 2008

Democrats: getting ready for a major league "stitch-up"

I'm using the excuse that Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the Wyoming Primary to file another report on the interminable struggle for the Democratic nomination. And it really is interminable, as the projections for the remaining 12 states now show that it is very unlikely that Obama will reach 2025 delegates based on elected delegates alone; which means that the 800 unelected 'super-delegates' - party officials - will be decisive.

Current projections show a split of around 60%-40% in super-delegates between Clinton and Obama but that's largely irrelevant when the Democratic convention comes around in August because they don't have to vote any particular way - they are guns for hire, perhaps literally. It is entirely possible that Clinton could somehow swing a majority of super-delegates around, even though she is very unlikely to have more of the elected delegate vote than Obama by then.

My worry isn't so much that this would be "unfair" - it's not immediately obvious that 100% election by caucus or primary (some of which involve independent voters who may be Republican sympathisers!) is the best way to choose a candidate, and an electoral college between party officials and voters (which is what they effectively have at the moment) might make more sense. It's more that, if there is such a deal and Clinton gets the nomination, a lot of Obama supporters are going to be so pissed off that they're not going to bother to turn out and vote in the presidential election in November. The same might happen in reverse with Clinton supporters if Obama wins the nomination, but I think that's less likely because he could at least claim he has the weight of "popular opinion on his side.

This struggle is dragging on and on - largely because Obama's support softened badly in Texas and Ohio when he ran into a wave of negative publicity about the corruption rap for his friend Tony Rezko, and he didn't handle it very well as far as the footage from the press conference I saw on Channel 4 news suggested. Of course the footage could have been edited to make it look like just about anything, but you can be damn sure that a successful Democratic candidate will have to be able to deal with the media onslaught and scandals both real and manufactured just to survive. Bill Clinton went from strength to strength largely because he was able to do that; Jimmy Carter got blown away after one term largely because he couldn't. The real danger is that Obama ends up suffering the same fate as Carter, rather than being able to combine the sense of resuscitating the corpse of political hope that both Carter and JFK embodied with the political balls of the Clintons. Both Bill and Hillary are real sluggers, as is Dubya Bush, and any successful president needs some of that. You can't biuild yourself up by cultivating a sense of hope in people and then fall apart when the going gets tough. That's the route to landslide defeat and condemning the Democrats to another generation of impotence (once again, look at Carter in 1980).

So, extra rations of bile and roughage for Obama over these next couple of months and he ought to be able to get through this. But if he looks too weedy or flaky then it's gonna be Hillary Clinton for the nomination. Should be interesting.

Somewhere, John McCain is rubbing his hands at the prospect of 5 more months of Democratic infighting. But as the poll ratings of both Democratic contenders against him in the election have risen since all this started, maybe the joke's on him...

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