Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennsylvania and Beyond: Let Voters Decide

As democrats in Pennsylvania set to vote on Tuesday, April 22, many believe the prolonged nomination will undermine both candidates’ electability. Obama’s association with controversial Rev. Wright and his “bitter” comments have been an unwelcome distraction, and underscored his vulnerabilities; while Clinton’s “Bosnia” gaffes and revelation of new wealth ($109 income tax statements) increased her negative ratings (from 38% to 52% according to latest polls). Democrats worried John McCain, the Republican nominee, will be unchallenged for the next several months, and this may diminish the party’s chances of reclaiming the White House. As a result, various democratic politicians, the media and some political pundits forcefully pressured Clinton to withdraw from the race. Notwithstanding these strong challenges and being outspent by Obama (3 to 1), Clinton is poised to win Pennsylvania’s primary by 5-10% (according to recent polls).

These calls for Clinton’s withdraw proved premature for several reasons as both campaigns move forward to Indiana and North Carolina after Tuesday.

1) The Democratic Party has a history of contentious primary contests and not all proved fatal. In some cases, strong primary competitions became invaluable experiences, especially for new politicians because they helped strengthen the candidates’ policy positions, debating skills, and addressed potential land mines early in the process. For example, in 1960, John Kennedy faced formidable opponents such as Herbert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson. Strong competition forced Kennedy to address the Catholic question beforehand and as a result, it did not become Kennedy’s Achilles heel in the general election. Even Kennedy was short of delegates needed to secure the nomination when the party convention commenced in Los Angeles. Despite the tough nominating process, party faithfuls gravitated back to Kennedy and he went on to win the presidency.

2) Clinton and Obama’s history making candidacies to date generated enormous enthusiasm and money, expanding the democratic party’s political base such as Hispanics, “soccer moms”, and independents, key constituencies in the general election. The nail-biting contest between both candidates will continue to galvanize and attract new voters in the remaining primaries, and these voters may be crucial to winning key contests in November such senate races in Oregon and Kentucky.

3) Make every vote count. This year, many states moved their primaries early to jockey for influence and attention, and this resulted in a messy primary schedule with delegates from Michigan and Florida discounted for violating party rules. It is clear after the 2000 election, democrats want to make certain their votes count in every and all elections. Ending the contest prematurely by pressing a candidate to withdraw will not only disenfranchise voters, but also create the perception that only early voting states matter. It will only drive more states to move their primaries ahead, further exacerbating the already insane primary schedule.

After Pennsylvania, there are still nine remaining primaries with over 500 delegates at stake and millions of voters waiting to be heard. Their voices, concerns, aspirations, and votes are equally important. The calls should not be for a particular candidate to withdraw, but should be for a reformed primary process, one that allows all voters to decide, not the first 15, 30 or 40 states, and surely not the superdelegates.

1 comment:

UrBoo said...

Chan, appreciate the clarity you provide on this issue. I agree with your general point that the nominee should be decided by voters. I think, however, there's broad agreement Clinton won't win the delegate count or popular vote, even with marginal victories in PA, WV, IN, and KY. I would also say most Democrats fear having the nominee decided in Colorado, given the bad memories from Chicago '68 and potential fights over FL and MI. If Obama maintains his lead in popular vote and delegate count after Memorial Day, barring any unfortunate acts of God or man or conscious-changing political gaffes on Obama’s part, I’d bet the superdelegates will publically coalesce around Obama, making a Clinton withdraw inevitable. If that plays out and Clinton still chooses to “bet the house” she could end up out of the nomination and out of American politics, along with her husband, once her Senate term expires.