Denver's Road Now Open to All -- With an Express Lane for Florida and Michigan

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Carl Jeffers Television political commentator, radio talk show host, lecturer, political analyst

Ohio and Texas have spoken, and what they said is that the road to Denver cannot be a single lane express drive for just one vehicle with no road blocks or toll stops to revalidate the trip. The Obama bus was on that express drive, and the voters said let's open the on-ramp and let the Clinton bus on to also test its mettle for the rest of the trip. But in fighting to get back on the road, the Clinton bus received some unexpected assistance that helped them get past the media toll booth referees who had continually loaded her entry lane with roadblocks and detours while allowing the Obama bus to sail through with an advance crew in place to smooth and pave the road.

Who would have thought that the comedy world could not only make fun of the political scene, as the late night comics often do, but that this same comedy world could impact the presidential race and actually force the media to take an introspective look within its own house, or estate if you prefer, whether it's' the 4th estate or the 1st estate, as some of them seem to think.

For many of us, the observations being sarcastically made by the media these past two weeks were not a surprise as we have been arguing for some time that the media seemed to have a "license to attack" with no accountability in how they covered Hillary Clinton, while at the same time, covering Barack Obama with a sense of "we're dealing with a messianic angel who gives us all hope," and our obligation as journalists is to encourage and assist that messenger and his message.

But Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show forced all of us to consider what has been happening in the coverage of the two candidates. And to its credit, I think the media came to two conclusions. First, that the perception that they have favored Barack Obama and given him a "free pass" is a perception that is not healthy and could backfire on the media (look at how many voters said they felt Hillary was getting unfair media coverage - even many Obama supporters were agreeing with that assertion.) Second, they also concluded that it was actually "okay" to raise tough questions with both candidates, and so the media re-examined their approach of questioning Hillary about her tax returns and White House records while simultaneously asking Barack about his "favorite cereal."

And the fact that Obama did not handle the simultaneous questions about the Canadian embassy flap and the Chicago trial of the investor with ties to Obama shows that if he will be the candidate, the media can actually help him become a better fall campaign candidate by not giving him a free pass in the spring.

But the voters in Texas and Ohio did speak, and before we address the new express lane open for the bus carrying a plan for Michigan and Florida, let's see what else the voters said.

First, the Obama team responded to the Clinton victories by asserting that Hillary will "claim she now has momentum." NO - she HAS momentum. And the fact that she raised three million dollars in one day since the primaries is evidence of that fact. And for Obama, he is still in the fast lane of that highway to Denver as he still has the lead in pledged delegates, and the press is still in training on how to be a little tougher on him, so he still has some benefits in that quarter. Second, and again a plus for both sides, one third of the voters in Texas were independents and Republicans and they voted for Obama while the majority of actual Democratic voters in Texas voted for Hillary Clinton.

Obama can still claim to have won many more states than Clinton, a very important component of the "math" that everyone is focusing on right now, but Clinton has won OHIO, and no candidate for President in the last 50 years has won the White House without winning Ohio. For Obama, he is still winning young people, a constituency that both parties love to court but never seem to get in big numbers in November - and Obama seems to have a great chance to get them. And Obama is winning the African-American vote by averages of over 80%, the largest level of support from any demographic group for one candidate, and a group that is absolutely vital to the Democrats in the big blue states in November. But Hillary won both states with Obama outspending her 3 to 1, and voters who decided in the last week when questions of experience and readiness were on the table decided to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Finally, the Hispanic vote went for Clinton by 2 to 1, and I maintain that the real reason that the southwestern states of New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and possibly Arizona are in play in November is precisely because of the growth of the Hispanic vote in those areas - and if they like Hillary and she is not the nominee, the best chance the Republicans have to get many of those voters is John McCain, who supports comprehensive immigration reform.

With those contrasts on the table, it is easy to see why 60% of Democrats want the race to continue despite the risks of increased bitterness and use of funds and resources while the Republicans regroup and heal wounds to prepare for the wounds they plan to inflict in the fall.

And that leads us to the current controversy over Florida and Michigan. Many were either hoping or expecting that an Obama victory in either Ohio or Texas or both would end the race and force Clinton to withdraw. But now that we have a different scenario, and both buses are still on the road to Denver, everyone is focusing on "what to do about Michigan and Florida," because there's now no possibility of just ignoring what happened in those two states whose delegates currently will not be seated and won't count in the balloting in Denver.

So what do we do about Michigan and Florida? I call my plan "The Jeffers Plan" to make it easy to criticize. But I would only caution that before everyone starts tearing my plan apart and leveling criticism, remember this - Everyone on TV, radio and print media has been screaming that something has to be done about these two states. They have all argued that the delegations from these two states simply cannot be seated at the convention in violation of the rules that THEY broke. And many others in the Party argue that you just can't ignore two states that are absolutely pivotal to the Party winning the election in November, and if the voters of those two states feel they have been shafted (regardless that it's really the fault of the State Democratic Parties, not the DLC), then those voters might just stay home in November if their input won't matter in August.

But not one anchor, commentator, analyst or party leader has so far been able to put forth an actual "Plan" to solve this problem. Not one. So here's the first actual plan, and let's use The Jeffers Plan as a starting point to refine and adjust and improve on as we go forward with the deliberations - and maybe the plan allows us to scrap it while it motivates the Party with ideas as to how they want to come up with their own - but let's get it started.

First, we know Clinton won both Michigan and Florida in terms of the actual votes. Second, we know that Obama does really well in caucus vote formats which means his campaign will resist any straight redo of primary voting alone in states that Clinton has already won. Third, both campaigns are raising enormous amounts of money for the race, and they both appear able to replace funds as they are spent. Fourth, and very important, if Michigan and Florida are redone a second time with the same proportionate allocation of delegates based on the voting tallies, chances are the results will not change anything and both candidates would still wind up short of what they need for a first ballot victory in Denver. And finally, everyone still insists that they don't want the super delegates to decide this election as it will destroy the Party and alienate major constituencies, even though this situation is exactly what the super delegate format was set up to handle to begin with.

Fine. Then let's set up both a redo primary AND a caucus vote in both Michigan and Florida. Since the Obama team wants caucuses, the Obama team pays for the cost of caucuses in both States. The cost of the primary redo, at least 3 to 5 times the cost of the caucus redo, would be split three ways in each state by three entities - the Clinton campaign, the State Democratic Party (they can take a pledge financial "note" for their share if they don't have it), and the Democratic National Committee.

Second, a formula would be established beforehand that would allocate importance of the primary vote vs the caucus vote based on a proportion of the total delegates awarded to be determined by the caucus and the majority of delegates to be decided by the primary vote.

You could use a combination of the Iowa, Nevada and Texas models to determine the formula with a committee of 5 representatives each from both the Obama and Clinton campaigns on the committee to set the formula, and the committee would be co-chaired by Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.

Third, once the results of the primary vote and the caucus vote are tallied and a COMBINED winner of both is determined, its then "winner take all," and the winner gets the total vote for each state. Again, if it's proportional it won't determine anything and we are then absolutely locked in to the super delegates deciding in Denver. You choose.

There would be two more debates, one in Michigan and one in Florida. CNN would present one of them and MSNBC would present the other one.

And finally, the voting for BOTH primaries and caucuses would be on the same day.

That's The Jeffers Plan, and I would close by emphasizing that if this battle goes all the way to Denver, each candidate will have a constituency that will not heal their bitter wounds in time for November. The Party should have insisted that this issue was resolved at the time the states decided to move their primaries up, and the state Democratic Parties should never have been so arrogant in the first place. And the candidates have to stop approaching the solution based on what helps them the most - something neither could be expected to do. But if they don't, the road to Denver will lead to another "bridge to nowhere" and the Democrats could lose in November. And after the miserable record of the eight years of the Bush Administration, if the Democrats lose this November they need to disband and reorganize under a new name!

Carl Jeffers is a Seattle-and Los Angeles based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and lecturer. E-mail: