The Prodigal Delegates

By David S. Broder
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jim Naughton and John Mashek are two of the smartest political reporters of the past generation. Naughton is a veteran of the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer and of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., a journalism think tank. Mashek came out of North Dakota and Texas and, after a distinguished career, retired from U.S. News & World Report.

The two are also noted for their wicked senses of humor, but they weren't kidding when they met during Mashek's annual excursion to the Phillies' training camp in Clearwater, Fla., and applied themselves to solving the problem of the embattled Florida and Michigan delegations to the Democratic National Convention.

As you know, those two states have been disciplined for jumping ahead of their assigned primary dates. The Democratic National Committee stripped them of their delegates, and so far plans for a revote or some other device to get them into the Denver convention hall have been stymied by legal and political disputes.

Mashek sent me an e-mail this week outlining the compromise solution he credits to Naughton. They accept the widespread view that Obama is likely to finish the primary season in June leading the delegate race but short of the 2,024 votes needed for nomination.

Clinton is pressing to seat both delegations, which would give her two more victories in vital battlegrounds. She left her name on both ballots, though she joined Obama in observing the DNC ban on campaigning in those states. Obama was on the Florida ballot, and his supporters in Michigan had recourse to an uncommitted slate. But he trailed in both states and, understandably, is not eager to see Clinton's popular vote and delegate totals swell.

So here is the Naughton plan: Because Florida and Michigan both knowingly violated the party rules, they must be punished by having the size of their delegations cut in half. But he would let the 183 remaining delegates chosen in the disputed primaries take their seats and vote on the platform or almost any other issue -- except those that impact directly on the presidential nomination.

When we talked, I told Naughton it was a clever solution. What I didn't tell him was that for weeks, I have been screwing up my courage to write about a crackpot solution of my own, one that would appeal only to the most desperate Democrats.

Almost 50 years ago, I went to Austin to cover a Democratic state convention. As usual, the liberals, led by the redoubtable R.D. "Frankie" Randolph of Houston, were thoroughly outvoted and humiliated by the party regulars, who supported Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn.

After their final overwhelming defeat on some platform or rules dispute, Randolph led her embattled ragtag army out of the convention hall and across an open field. Then they reconvened at what they called a "rump" convention and passed everything they wanted to pass, while damning the powers that be.

So here's my idea. When the Florida and Michigan delegates arrive in Denver, they should present their credentials to the convention and, assuming Obama leads in the results from the other primaries and caucuses, prepare to be turned down. Then they walk out, "rump" in a nearby hall and do their business, including casting mock votes for president.

TV would cover the spectacle, and the rhetoric would flow.

It would not satisfy those Florida and Michigan voters who claim the party is "disenfranchising" them, but their grievance is really with the leaders of their states, who got caught trying to jump the line.

For the disputed delegates, however, all the other perks of convention week would be available -- the parties, the schmoozing, the press interviews.

I can even imagine that the moment the presidential roll call is over, the floor manager of the winning candidate would seize the microphone, move to suspend the rules and suggest a unanimous vote to invite "our absent friends from Michigan and Florida to come join us" in their seats on the convention floor.

Smiles. Embraces. Blessed harmony. Anyway, it's better than a lawsuit.

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