Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Denver Dates?

By Shawn Healy
As voters take a seven-week hiatus after a slew of Critical Tuesday contests and the undercard matches that followed in Wyoming and Mississippi, the candidates, their campaigns, members of the DNC, and state officials in Michigan and Florida continue to spar over seating delegates that could go a long way in deciding the nominee of the party. The two states were punished by the DNC for moving their primaries forward on the calendar in advance of the Feb. 4 threshold. Looking back, Sen. Hillary Clinton "won" both contests by double-digit margins, although Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards chose to leave themselves off the ballot in Michigan, and none of the candidates campaigned in either state.

In January, the "disenfranchisement" of Michigan and Florida voters didn't cast the menacing shadow it does today as few predicted a two-horse race where Obama and Clinton divided the popular vote nearly evenly with Obama emerging with a significant, yet insufficient delegate lead over his chief rival. At the time, it appeared that the eventual party nominee would find a way to seat these delegates at the convention while padding a lead (Clinton) and at least not reversing one (Obama). The junior IL senator will likely head to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August short of the 2,025 votes he needs to secure the nomination, and Clinton sees an opportunity at least partially close the gap by brokering a compromise with the aforementioned players.

As mentioned above, the Clinton camp refused to campaign in either state, but it didn't stop them from claiming victory in either contest. Moreover, surrogates on the junior NY senator are quick to point out that both states are of the "swing" variety and critical to Democratic hopes come fall. "Disenfranchisement" of Democratic primary voters may persuade them to sit out or even switch their allegiances in favor of Sen. John McCain.

The Obama campaign emphasizes that he did not campaign in either state, and when the IL senator has targeted any given contest, he has either prevailed or given Clinton a close run for her money. Moreover, Obama wasn't even included on the Michigan ballot, and a full 40% of voters chose "uncommitted" in the Jan. 15 primary. We can assume that some of these voters supported Edwards, but that the majority likely sided with Obama.

What we are left with is a classic conundrum, with the nomination dangling in the air as a result. Primaries and caucuses are administered by either state governments or the parties themselves. In Michigan and Florida, the early primary dates were a product of the actions of their state legislators and complicit governors. Michigan is controlled by the Democratic Party at both levels, but for Florida, the opposite is true. This means that Sunshine State Democrats are being punished for their actions of their political rivals.

The mess falls once more to elected officials in either state, and recent developments suggest that a compromise is in the works in each respective state.

For Michigan, this may mean a do-over contest in early June orchestrated by the state, but financed by the party. National officials brokered a deal, but it must be passed by both houses of the legislature by a 2/3 vote and signed by Governor Granholm, a Clinton supporter. The lingering issue is of course money, with estimates that another round of voting may cost the economically depressed state as much as $30 million. It could be raised directly from the candidates themselves, from donations to state and/or the national party, or the very remote option of taxpayer dollars.

Other options include holding "firehouse" caucuses or even conducting the re-vote online. The former raises questions of representation as caucus turnout trends significantly lower, and undeniably favors the better organized Obama. This will be a non-starter for the Clinton camp. The latter raises issues of voter integrity, and with the high stakes present here, will also likely be relegated to the dustbin. Short of another primary, it appears as if the status quo will reign in the Wolverine State.

For Florida, a reworked primary is also an option, but another idea has caught fire in recent days and emerged as the most practical alternative. The Democrats would follow their GOP counterparts in penalizing the Sunshine State for their early primary by cutting their delegate haul in half. For Clinton, this would yield a 19-vote gain rather than the 38-vote majority she might had gained had the primary not run against the grain of DNC rules. Obama holds a 160-vote lead among elected delegates, and a 135-vote lead when pledged superdelegates are accounted for, so a narrowing of a mere 19 votes may be worth his while in the long run.

However, should Clinton prevail in Pennsylvania and potentially a Michigan re-vote, the margin may close further, adding to Obama's discomfort. Moreover, the prospect of Clinton emerging in June with more popular votes is strong, and she may claim victories in every one of the most populous states in the country (NY, NJ, PA, OH, TX, CA, MI) expect Obama's home state of Illinois. Should this transpire, Obama's delegate lead may be all that remains (along with 30+ state victories, although most are small in population and trend Republican in general elections) for him to lobby superdelegates for their loyalty.

What this leaves us with is more questions than answers. All players have the next few weeks of downtime to craft a compromise acceptable to both campaigns and states. Here's hoping that the "party of the people" can resolve this pressing controversy in a small-d democratic way fitting of the open access attributed to the Party since the debacle that occurred at the 1968 Convention in Chicago.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

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Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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