Caucus Idea Is Panned

Posted February 12, 2008 at 6:43pm

Sen. Barack Obama’s suggestion that Florida and Michigan could hold caucuses to determine their presidential delegates and avoid being frozen out of the Democratic National Convention has come under criticism from senior Democratic Senators from those states who object to throwing out millions of votes already cast.

Obama has objected to awarding delegates based on the primaries held in the two states given that the candidates agreed not to compete in either state after they moved up their primaries in violation of party rules. He has floated the possibility of holding caucuses — a format in which he has excelled — as a way to remedy the situation. The Illinois Senator suggested holding caucuses in the states in an interview with WJLA-TV and the Politico.

But Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) dismissed the possibility in interviews on Tuesday. Levin and Nelson said caucuses would effectively void the primaries in each of their states, and are pushing to have their delegates receive full voting power at the convention.

“You can’t undo an election with a caucus, especially one where 1.75 million Florida Democrats voted,” said Nelson, who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit last year seeking to overturn the national party’s decision to strip Florida of its delegates.

Levin had similar thoughts. “It would not be practical or fair to hold a caucus,” Levin said. “You’ve got 600,000 people who voted. You can’t just throw out the votes of 600,000 people.” Levin said the state will appeal to have its delegates restored by the party convention’s credentials committee this summer.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) prevailed in both contests — although Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan — and has said she would seek to have the states seated at the convention. With the battle between Clinton and Obama for delegates extremely close, the decision on what to do with the two states has the potential to determine the party’s nominee one way or the other, with some Democrats fearing damage to the party’s prospects in November.

Nelson said a caucus would result in the disenfranchisement of Florida voters and a dramatic reduction in the number of people who are able to participate, which is a particularly big issue in Florida with its large population of seniors for whom going to a caucus can be an ordeal.

Levin predicted that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will ensure that the full complement of delegates from each state will be seated at the GOP convention, which will leave the Democrats in a bind.

“They’re not going to punish anybody,” Levin said of the GOP. “Would the Democrats punish Florida and Michigan if the Republicans don’t? And what possible impact would that have on a general election where you need Florida and Michigan to win?” Levin asked.

Levin also said that the cost of additional elections is a factor. “I don’t think the state’s going to pony up” the millions it would take, he said.

Nelson also said that it was a nonstarter to hold a full-blown do-over of the primary, which would require the approval of Florida’s Republican state Legislature.

“The last election cost the state $18 million. That’s not practical,” Nelson said.

Asked about the fact that Clinton appeared on the Michigan ballot and Obama did not, Levin noted that it was Obama’s choice to withdraw his name.

“I was disappointed that he did,” Levin said.

Nelson also noted that Florida has never had a caucus, and organizing one on ultra-short notice would be difficult at best.

“We are very serious about the right to vote and having our votes count,” Nelson said, urging the national party to reconsider its ruling stripping his state of its delegates. “Obviously they need to be seated.”

Nelson added that the Florida situation is different from Michigan in multiple ways. In Florida, the Republican state legislature moved up the primary date, but Democratic voters were penalized for it, Nelson said. And the main candidates were on the ballot in Florida, while major candidates other than Clinton took their names off the ballot in Michigan.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who joined Nelson in last year’s lawsuit, also dismissed the possibility of holding another contest.

“In order to do a caucus, it will cost roughly $4 million,” he said. “Certainly between $2 million and $4 million. Florida doesn’t have the funds with which to do that,” he said.

Hastings said that perhaps as many as 100,000 people would attend caucuses, a far cry from those who voted in the primary.

“What does that say to the … people who voted? Once again my vote doesn’t count.”

Mark Bubriski, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said the party has no intention of holding a caucus, and said holding a primary simply would not happen because the Republican state Legislature would never agree to hold one.

Hastings said he is urging the DNC and the Clinton and Obama camps to iron out a compromise.

“It is unfathomable to believe that Florida and Michigan should be marginalized or made to be irrelevant and then expect either of them to win Michigan or Florida in November,” Hastings said.

“The people that messed this up are the DNC Rules Committee,” Hastings said. “It’s their responsibility. They need to remedy it.”

Hastings said Obama would be making a mistake if he objects to seating Florida’s delegates.

“In my judgment it’s a mistake to further abuse the Florida delegates and the voters,” Hastings said. “It’s a mess. Stay tuned.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), meanwhile, said holding new elections might be best for both the states and the party.

“That would solve the problems for the party and allow the state to have more influence than they ever thought they would,” Cardin said, noting the massive media and candidate attention that would accompany caucuses in the two states.