TOPICS > Politics

Mich., Fla. Seek Chance to Redo Democratic Primaries

March 6, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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As a tight primary race continues, the Democratic Party is considering redoing primaries in Michigan and Florida -- states who were stripped of their delegates for holding their primaries too early -- to allow those states' delegates to be seated at the national convention. Officials from each state discuss the options.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the Democrats’ missing delegates. Judy Woodruff has that story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the Democratic race for president likely to continue on for weeks, possibly all the way to the convention, party officials are trying to figure out what to do about Michigan and Florida.

Because both states held their presidential primaries in January, earlier than the two national parties wanted, the parties retaliated. The Republicans stripped Michigan and Florida of half of their convention delegates; the Democrats stripped away all of them, delegates who could tip the balance if allowed to sit at the convention in Denver.

Yesterday, Governors Granholm of Michigan, a Democrat, and Crist of Florida, a Republican, issued a joint statement, arguing, quote, “It is intolerable that the national political parties have denied the citizens of Michigan and Florida their votes and voices at their respective national conventions.”

This morning, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, responded on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

HOWARD DEAN, Chairman, Democratic National Committee: Well, we would love to have them seated, but they have to be seated within the rules. A year-and-a-half ago, we set a primary schedule, which Florida and Michigan both voted for.

What you cannot do is change the rules in the middle of a contest. I think every American understands that.

There’s been a lot of talk about things that they can do. We’ve been very clear what they can do. One, they can resubmit to the Democratic National Committee Rules Committee a set of rules to pick delegates that are within the rules that they agreed to.

And, two, if they don’t want to do that, they can appeal to the Credentials Committee and hope for the best in July.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senators Clinton and Obama stuck by their agreement not to campaign in those two states and Obama withdrew his name from the Michigan ballot.

But after Clinton scored victories in both contests, her campaign began to argue in favor of seating the delegates. Clinton addressed the issue again today.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I think that it would be a grave disservice to the voters of Florida and Michigan to adopt any process that would disenfranchise anyone. And, therefore, I am still committed to seating their delegations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama has called for a solution to the delegate conundrum, one that is fair to both sides.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: There are probably a whole slew of different solutions that could be come up with that would both achieve the interest of making sure that Michigan and Florida delegates participate without skewing the delegate count for either candidate. And I think, to the extent that we can work something out like that, that would make sense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The total of Florida and Michigan’s combined Democratic delegates is 366. Barack Obama currently leads Hillary Clinton by about 100.

Comparing election proposals

Rep. Dan Gelber
D-Fla.
We're in a very similar situation in Michigan. I think we have to do a do-over. I think we're sort of tired about arguing about January 29th, because if we do that for too long, we'll miss the window of opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For a closer look at the delegate dispute, we're joined by Dan Gelber. He is Florida's House Democratic leader. He joins us from Tallahassee.

And from Detroit, Robert Ficano, the Wayne County executive. Mr. Ficano also is a Democratic super-delegate. Neither gentleman has endorsed a presidential candidate.

Mr. Ficano, to you first. Now that Howard Dean, the Democratic national chair, has said it's basically up to you and the states to either come back with a new plan or wait for the so-called Credentials Committee in the summer, what's the inclination there in Michigan?

ROBERT FICANO, Michigan Super-Delegate: Well, I think, according to the governor, we're into negotiations going on with the national party. We do know that the Democratic nominee cannot win the election this November without Michigan or Florida, so it's going to be critical that we resolve this sooner rather than later.

And I think they're looking at several options. They're looking at a do-over; they're looking at caucuses; an open primary; perhaps the governor has suggested even it being privately funded; or maybe even the candidates themselves coming in with some money to run the primary.

We do know in Michigan that we're not going to go to another election where the taxpayers are going to pay for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to follow up on all that, but let me turn to Florida and to Mr. Gelber, who, as we said, is the House Democratic leader. What's the sense in Florida, looking for a new plan or waiting for the so-called Credentials Committee?

DAN GELBER (D), Florida House Democratic Leader: I think we're tired of waiting. And, unfortunately, in Florida we have a history with voting. Somehow our stars get crossed and all roads lead here in the worst of circumstances.

We're in a very similar situation in Michigan. I think we have to do a do-over. I think we're sort of tired about arguing about January 29th, because if we do that for too long, we'll miss the window of opportunity.

I think many folks in Florida believe that a caucus is just not participatory enough, so we'd have to do a re-vote. And we cannot do -- I don't believe -- a full primary. It's about $25 million, and it really almost structurally can't be done.

So a re-vote would bring about 2.5 million voters via the mail into the caucus, if we just did Democrats, and obviously more if we included independents. But I think that's really the only solution; it's not the perfect solution, but it may be the only one that's available and the best one that's available.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So doing something by mail.

Well, let me come back to you, Mr. Ficano. In Michigan, is that something you're looking at there?

ROBERT FICANO: I think they're looking at several things, but one is the caucus, but that one has been studied, but also what they call a firehouse primary, where it's not the same extensive amount as, say, an open primary, where you're voting in schools and things like that, but perhaps setting it up, where they say, like firehouses or union halls, where Democrats can come in, they can vote, and they can cast votes for a day or during the day.

It may not be as long as the regular election. But at this point, we do have to find a solution. And we think that either the caucus, the firehouse-type of primary, or just recognizing what happened in January, but apparently with the national party that's not going to happen.

Bearing the cost

Robert Ficano
Michigan super delegate
Instead of going into the convention, perhaps with the super-delegates being the final deciding factor, there might be a sense that it's, quote, "fairer" if there's the elections that would occur in both Florida and Michigan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just so that we understand, if you do hold another election, it's going to cost money. Who would pay for it?

ROBERT FICANO: Well, that's part of the contention. Mr. Dean has said that they aren't going to pay for it. We have stakeholders here in Michigan. We have a big presence, obviously, of organized labor. They're usually the ones with caucuses that pay for the sites and things like that.

Also, though, maybe perhaps approaching both campaigns and asking them to help pay for the re-do or the election again, so either going to our stakeholders or either going to perhaps the candidates themselves and seeing if they want to come up with some money.

It's obvious that Michigan and Florida are going to be critical to both nominees. And we want to get this done, as I said, sooner rather than later.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Gelber, what about paying for this in Florida? What are the ideas being looked at?

DAN GELBER: Other than the cold weather, we're pretty close to what Michigan is saying. I really do think that perhaps the candidates can weigh in; I think it would make sense for them.

They both have said that they very much want Florida to count. And I think, whoever the nominee is -- and I'd be proud to be supporting either one of them -- in November, they're going to want us. So they want us engaged.

So I think, whether it's the candidates -- but for a vote-by-mail, it's about $4 million to $5 million, if you just do the Democrats, and a little bit more if you include independents in the vote-by-mail. And that's a much more -- you know, a number we could put our hands around.

I don't think the DNC is going to help us, either. So it's either going to be a donor program or the candidates standing up and saying to their donor base, "Let's help Florida count, and let's help the voters get into this race and be engaged so that November we have a change of course in this country," because Florida Democrats and perhaps independents are involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Ficano, it's not a conflict of interest to have the candidates footing the bill for this?

ROBERT FICANO: Well, no. Actually, if they both put an equal amount, they're the ones that really need the determination. I think it would be in everybody's interest, because we would have the decision before Denver.

I think everybody realizes, if Florida and Michigan vote, say sometime in June or right after Puerto Rico, at that point, you'd probably have a definite winner.

And instead of going into the convention, perhaps with the super-delegates being the final deciding factor, there might be a sense that it's, quote, "fairer" if there's the elections that would occur in both Florida and Michigan, and that there would be a clear nominee, and we wouldn't have the party split, and perhaps fighting or haggling at the national convention, and trying to decide if even the delegates from Michigan and Florida should be seated.

Voter participation

Robert Ficano
Michigan super delegate
The candidates will be energized, because it will come down like a sudden-death type of situation, where they're going to both be campaigning in Michigan and Florida, and you're going to see a lot of national attention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Gelber, in Florida, to what extent, though, does this disenfranchise those people who did vote back in -- who went to the trouble, got up, went to the polls, and cast their ballots in January?

DAN GELBER: That's a good point. That's why I think a re-vote-by-mail is the best option available. 1.7 million Floridians voted. As much as we'd like to count it, we can't. The DNC is not going to allow it. And if we keep arguing, we'll run out of time and the window will close on our ability to actually have their voices counted.

I don't view a re-vote as less participatory. I think it's more. They'll get to vote again. There won't be seven candidates on the ballot as there were in January, as there was in January. And, in fact, people are more informed, and it's actually going to be more relevant.

So, to me, voting again doesn't disenfranchise anybody. It simply allows them to vote at a more critical time. And I think we'll have 800,000 to a million more people voting than we did in January.

So I think it's a pretty good scenario for Floridians. And I'm hoping that the candidates think about it in those terms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Ficano, what about this disenfranchisement question? And do you think the two candidates will go along with this?

ROBERT FICANO: Well, they said they want something fair. And this is something that probably gets pretty close to fair, if they both put in an equal amount and we're able to conduct both elections.

Of course nobody likes that the voters in January were really disenfranchised. But what we have to do at this point is that we can't really look back, because we have to make a decision and we have to look forward.

We probably have to hold our nose, make a decision, and then do something that's going to be fair. And I think that the candidates will be energized, because it will come down like a sudden-death type of situation, where they're going to both be campaigning in Michigan and Florida, and you're going to see a lot of national attention, and you're going to see the nominee eventually picked.

Candidates back on the trail

Rep. Dan Gelber
D-Fla.
Florida and Michigan are very important. Florida has pretty much decided the last two presidential elections, so I think the candidates realize not just how important it is to win the primary, but how important it is to win the general election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to you, again, Mr. Gelber, do you expect the candidates to campaign there? I mean, we're just having an election all over again. Is that how you see it?

DAN GELBER: I think it would be great. I mean, I wish all Democrats got along as me and this guy are getting, because I think it makes a lot of sense.

I mean, you know, Florida and Michigan are very important. Florida, for crying out loud, has pretty much decided the last two presidential elections, so I think the candidates realize not just how important it is to win the primary, but how important it is to win the general election.

And you're not going to win it if you've sort of left Florida Democrats behind and unattached to this process. And they want to be.

And I think the pressure is going to build, as it is almost every hour, internally here in the state by people who want to participate in this journey, and outside, throughout the nation, as people want to know what's going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it's not settled yet, but thank you both for helping us understand what's going on in Michigan and Florida. Robert Ficano, Dan Gelber, thank you.

ROBERT FICANO: Thank you.