Posted on May 27, 2008Last week I taped a short radio segment with CounterSpin, produced for national distribution by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. My subject was how many journalists have over-hyped recent Democratic primary results, not recognizing how predictable they largely have been in a race whose basic outlines were established by February 6th
During the broadcast, I commented matter-of-factly that the Obama-Clinton race is very close, but that Obama is ahead by several different measures, including the national popular vote. For me, this is a simple fact, as the only way Obama can be said to be behind in the popular vote is to count all votes cast in Michigan and Florida in January contests that the party had rejected months before. The only way Clinton can be said to lead in the popular vote is to count all votes cast for her in Michigan and keep Obama's Michigan total at zero, given that he was not on the ballot. You can see all the ways of counting the popular vote tallied helpfully at Real Clear Politics
Perhaps I should have realized that this comment would draw some reaction, but I still was surprised at some of the vitriol in some blogs. My comment had no partisan intent, but this debate is a hornet's nest.
This got me to thinking about why the Obama-Clinton contest has gotten as ugly as it has in recent weeks, with tensions mounting. What reinforces for me is the value of the major parties having a schedule of contests that ensures all states and territories have a crack at a meaningful contest, particularly if the nomination race is close.
Polls consistently show that Democrats want this contest to cover all states, but since March 4, Clinton has mathematically had no real chance to win a majority of pledged delegates barring a massive shift in voting patterns -- there simply weren't enough states left. With three more months of contests and most Democrats wanting a 50-state nomination, Clinton had every reason to keep campaigning hard. But to justify her candidacy her campaign has had to make arguments that can get both sides riled up -- fighting over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, for example, and starting to highlight the symbolis national popular vote.
In a better scheduled system, the pledged delegate contest would have not have been decided with three more months of voting in such a close contest. There would have been enough states voting at the end of the process for the race to be in play.
There are various ways to structure such a process, although they all require that states play by the rules that the party establishes. See our FixThePrimaries website for different proposals; my favorite continues to be the American Plan or some variant (such as ending with a national primary between the top two candidates or possibly top three candidates using instant runoff voting.)