Dean Calls for Unity, Hints at Pro-Obama Solution to Florida-Michigan Mess

| Sat May 31, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

The Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) is meeting today in Washington, D.C., to decide whether the delegates from Michigan and Florida's rule-breaking primaries will count in the race for the nomination. Both states lost all of their delegates as a punishment for moving up their primaries without DNC approval. Hillary Clinton's campaign has argued that the delegates from both states should be restored in full, a move that would net her some 40-odd delegates. Barack Obama's campaign has said it is willing to compromise, but will not accede to all of the Clinton campaign's demands.

A DNC staff analysis released earlier this week seems to indicate that the RBC cannot restore more than half of Florida and Michigan's delegates—it's supposedly an "automatic" penalty. The 30-member RBC includes 13 Clinton supporters, 8 Obama supporters, and 9 people who have not committed to either candidate. So Clinton only needs the votes of 3 of the 9 uncommitted members to force a decision in her favor.

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It may not matter, anyway. David Corn has already explained how this whole meeting may be a phony drama. Even Clinton's best-case scenario will still leave her well behind Obama in the delegate race. It's not the committee's ruling that will matter most here. The reactions of the two campaigns and their supporters to that decision will be the real news. If Clinton and her supporters feel cheated and press the issue after an adverse result, it could break the party apart. The threat of that conflict was the subtext to Howard Dean's opening remarks this morning.

"It has been a very long tough difficult campaign, but it has made our candidates and our party much stronger," Dean said. "The race continues to the final contests. Our work is just beginning."

"The cynics will look for the conflict.... We are strong enough to struggle and disagree and even be angry and disappointed and still come together at the end and be united."

To emphasize his point about coming together for the good of the party, Dean recounted a story from his own presidential campaign. As his 2004 run was collapsing, Dean received a midnight phone call from Al Gore, who had endorsed him. Dean said he wandered through his house, complaining to Gore about how badly he'd been treated by his own party. "Finally, Al said to me, 'Howard, this is not about you, it's about your country,'" Dean said. "At the time, nobody could have said that to me, even my wife, except for Al Gore," since Gore had the presidency "snatched" from him by the Supreme Court.

Dean's story got widespread applause, but his concluding remarks were noticeably less well received. Dean asked the committee members to consider three points, all of which seem to lean towards a pro-Obama resolution:

Dean said the first thing to consider was the need for "respecting the voters of Florida and Michigan," but "not just those who turned out to vote, but those who did not"—meaning voters who stayed home assuming the primary would not count.

Dean's second principal was respect for "the candidates and the campaigns that followed the rules." That's code for Obama.

Dean's third principal was to "respect the 48 states that did not violate the rules," which seems to imply a need for some sort of punishment for the states that did violate the rules—namely Florida and Michigan.

If Dean's three principals weren't enough to make his support for a pro-Obama resolution clear, Dean let slip his vision for the next few months. He referred to the convention as an opportunity to "showcase our nominee." He's not expecting the primary race to go to Denver. If this speech was any indication, we should expect Howard Dean and the DNC (along with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid) to try to push Hillary Clinton out of the race if she stays in much past the end of next week. Again, it's not the outcome of this meeting that matters. The reactions matter. And this morning, Dean gave a big hint as to what his reaction is going to be, whatever way the meeting turns out.

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