Obama, Clinton Camps Make Case In Advance of Key DNC Meeting on FL and MI

| Wed May 28, 2008 4:01 PM EDT

On a conference call with reporters today, the Clinton campaign made it clear what it hopes to get out of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) meeting scheduled for this Saturday. The meeting, which is open to the press and will be covered by Mother Jones, seeks to resolve the controversy surrounding Michigan and Florida. "Delegate allocation must fairly reflect the popular vote," Clinton delegate counter Harold Ickes said over and over. Ickes statement summarizes the Clinton position: count the popular vote percentages exactly as they were filed back in January, even though Obama wasn't on the ballot in Michigan and neither candidate campaigned in Florida, and distribute the states' delegates accordingly.

But the delegates aren't really the secret to the their plans. Obama currently leads in pledged delegates 1659-1499. If you split Michigan's 128 delegates according to the vote count (55 percent for Clinton, 40 percent for "uncommitted"/Obama), Clinton nets 70 and Obama nets 51. The rest go to also-rans, primarily Kucinich. If you divide Florida's 185 delegates exactly as the popular vote went (50 percent for Clinton, 33 percent for Obama), Clinton gets 92 delegates to Obama's 42. The rest again go to also-rans, primarily Edwards this time.

Now this hypothetical doesn't factor in the possibility that the DNC will halve Michigan and Florida's delegations as punishment for moving their primaries ahead of Party-set limits, and to ensure that states don't repeat this fiasco in 2012. Instead, it counts the delegates exactly as Clinton wants.

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The pledged delegate totals are now 1752 for Obama and 1661 for Clinton. Obama's lead is still over 90. That is to say, the lead in pledged delegates is still insurmountable.

The reason for all the wrangling over Michigan and Florida's delegations lies in something communications director Howard Wolfson said on today's conference call. The Clinton campaign, Wolfson said, is seeking the "largest possible advantage in the popular vote."

If the DNC counts the delegations as the Clinton campaign wants, Clinton staffers can then say, "The DNC is counting Florida and Michigan in full. We should use their popular votes in full. And when you add their popular votes to the popular vote totals, Hillary Clinton has a untouchable popular vote lead." This is the strongest possible case Clinton can make when she calls up uncommitted superdelegates, who are still her only route to the nomination.

Alternative explanation: The Clinton campaign is refusing to consider any option other than seating the delegations fully because if the RBC doesn't give it what it wants, the campaign has another rhetorical weapon in whipping up supporters. It can play the victim card, and use the situation to raise money and sympathy should Clinton decide to appeal the RBC's decision and take the race to a convention fight. The campaign wouldn't discuss this option on the conference call. "Our focus is on Saturday," said Wolfson.

The Obama campaign held a conference call later in the day. They sounded notes of compromise. "We'd be open to something where she nets delegates," said campaign manager David Plouffe. "And not an insignificant number." The campaign said it sent word to supporters telling them not to appear in DC on Saturday in order to hold a protest or rally outside the RBC meeting. The Clinton campaign is planning such a rally. "We shouldn't turn this into a spectacle," said Plouffe. "We could produce thousands or tens of thousands of people. We just don't think it's helpful."

Plouffe was asked about the calculations above. Why not just seat the delegations in full, exactly as the Clinton camp desires, a reporter said to Plouffe. You'll maintain your lead in the pledged delegate total. "We don't think it's fair to seat them fully," responded Plouffe. He pointed out that Clinton agreed, like everyone else, to follow the rules and not honor the Michigan and Florida primaries, and only changed her mind when it became politically expedient for her to do so. He also pointed out that the Obama campaign fought "ferociously" in small states where Obama won but netted fewer delegates than Clinton will get through some sort of compromise solution on Michigan and Florida. A compromise, Plouffe suggested, was fine. A wholesale capitulation was not.

In the end, though, what the Obama campaign seemed to be seeking most was resolution. It's time to "stop arguing about this and focus on the general election," said Plouffe.