The Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee decision on Saturday to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations to the Democratic conventions with their voting strength cut in half is a major boost for Barack Obama, and a clear signal that the long and bitter fight for the nomination is on the verge of ending.
With the deck stacked against them, the Clinton forces may have had no choice but to abandon their demand that every Michigan and Florida delegate be seated with a full vote for each. In making the concession, the New York Senator not only settled for a net gain of just 26.5 delegate votes instead of 56, but gave up a crucial issue to take to the August convention in Denver.
"The Clinton campaign lost their biggest rationale for staying in the race," said California-based Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. "Any potential for Senator Clinton to pick up a large block of delegates is gone and the superdelegates will likely move to Senator Obama and end the race."
Jim Jordan, who managed John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid during its preliminary stages, was more explicit. "Even the Clinton folks acknowledged that this was their last gasp. So that's it. Time to turn to what matters, winning in November. And it's time for Senator Clinton herself to start salving the party's wounds."
Officially, the Clinton campaign declared that it was not giving up its right to appeal the decision of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) to the full convention over a relatively minor issue - four Michigan delegates given to Obama -- but, by accepting the resolution of the Florida seating issue without dissent, the campaign lost its strongest case.
Obama emerged from the RBC proceedings with a grand total of 2,052 delegates, just 66 short of the 2,118 required to win the nomination. Clinton has 1,877.5 delegates, 240.5 short of the number needed to win.
There are still three primaries to go -- in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana. Polling shows Clinton holding a double digit lead in Puerto Rico, while Obama holds a comparable lead in South Dakota and Montana. The three jurisdictions will send a total of 111 delegates to the convention, so that it is possible Obama could reach the magic 2,118 by the end of the day Tuesday, but he is likely to also need additional support from superdelegates who are free to make their own choice of a candidate.
Shortly after the RBC completed deliberations, Clinton's chief strategists on the committee, Harold Ickes and Tina Flournoy, declared that they may still fight over four delegates from Michigan:
Today's results are a victory for the people of Florida who will have a voice in selecting our Party's nominee and will see its delegates seated at our party's convention. The decision by the Rules and Bylaws Committee honors the votes that were cast by the people of Florida and allocates the delegates accordingly.
We strongly object to the Committee's decision to undercut its own rules in seating Michigan's delegates without reflecting the votes of the people of Michigan. The Committee awarded to Senator Obama not only the delegates won by Uncommitted, but four of the delegates won by Senator Clinton. This decision violates the bedrock principles of our democracy and our Party.
We reserve the right to challenge this decision before the Credentials Committee and appeal for a fair allocation of Michigan's delegates that actually reflect the votes as they were cast.
A credentials fight over four delegates would be just a blip on the screen compared to what could have been a convention floor battle over the seating of 210 Florida and 156 Michigan delegates.
Robert Bauer, counsel to the Obama campaign, noted that the committee decision "does remove one obstacle. It is not clear she [Clinton] will see it that way."
Jonathan M. Prince, deputy manager of John Edwards' failed presidential bid, said "everything that's going on now is (and should be) about dignified closure....there's no good guy and no bad guy and it's in everyone's interest for both candidates to leave the field with their heads held high - one having run a historic race and winning, ready to unite the party and move on to the real fight, the other having run a historic race and almost winning."
Similarly, Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America's Future and co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, said "This is all but over." He predicted a scenario of, "the Clintons accept the inevitable. The convention is unified. Hillary Clinton works harder than any other surrogate to elect the ticket."
"There is a new sheriff in town, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi," said Democratic media specialist James Duffy. "In my mind she is driving the bus, and she will drive it right over the Clintons and if they miss the fact they got run over, she will back up and run over them again."