Memo to the Obama Campaign: Why Fight Over 4 Delegates?

06/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The thousands of Clinton supporters in the streets on Saturday in front of DC's Marriott Hotel, many of them from Florida and Michigan, were angry in the beginning of the day. At the end of the day, they were even angrier -- with the prime focus of their ire Senator Barack Obama.

And the difference between a happy vs. an angry outcome was -- I am not making this up -- just four Michigan delegates, a forced switch of just four delegates from Senator Clinton's to Senator Obama's total.

This decision was made by a divided DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee over the strong objection of Senator Clinton's representative on the committee, Harold Ickes. It was made with the support of Senator Obama's campaign and his representatives on the Rules Committee.

Put aside the merits of the arguments on both sides and let's just look at the politics.

Senator Obama says at this stage he wants to promote party unity. The DNC Chair Howard Dean says the same thing. The party "leaders" we hear about more and more in the media say the same thing.

Yet when it came down to the crucial moments during Saturday afternoon's deliberations of the Rules Committee concerning the seating of the Michigan delegation, Senator Obama and his supporters on the committee drew a bright line over four delegates. Why?

Beats me.

Here's the simple math. The final split of the Michigan delegation supported by Senator Clinton's campaign was 73-55, reflecting the percentage results of the Michigan primary (55% votes won by Senator Clinton, 40% won by "uncommitted.") The Rules Committee decided to take four of those votes from Senator Clinton and give them to Senator Obama, so the final total was now Clinton 69 and Obama 59.

Mr. Ickes argued that the word "hijack" was appropriate regarding those four delegates because there was no legal basis for the Rules and Bylaws Committee -- either under party rules as well as the Charter (constitution) of the Party for a DNC committee to take delegates from one candidate and award them to another; and certainly not to award delegates inconsistent with the "fair reflection" of the will of Democratic voters. Mr. Ickes rightly pointed out that the "fair reflection" requirement is a core requirement of the DNC's Charter -- as fundamental a constitutional value for the Democratic Party as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is to the American people.

The pro-Obama forces would argue that the Michigan primary was "flawed" because not everyone, including Senator Obama, was on the ballot. (It is also a fact that Senator Obama could have kept his name on the ballot under the party rules, as did Senators Clinton and Chris Dodd, but chose not to).

But putting the arguments pro- and con- aside, let's go back to the opening question, based on plain political considerations:

Why would Senator Obama want to draw a bright line over a difference of plus/minus four delegates? If that's what it would have taken to bring unity out of the Michigan - Florida rules fight, why not agree? Why risk exacerbating the problems Senator Obama already could have among the most loyal Clinton voters, many of them women, in the millions across the country and many in the critical battleground states?

Beats me.

The Clinton campaign has a decision to make -- whether to go to the national convention's Credentials Committee to challenge what they argue is an unconstitutional and illegal transfer by the non-valid fiat of the Rules Committee of delegates committed to one candidate to another candidate. They feel they have a constitutional core principle to defend the Charter's commitment to small "d" democracy and the rule of law. Rightly or wrongly, that may seem to be a principle worth taking to the Credentials Committee or even the convention floor.

If they do so, and the party remains divided between a candidate who won more delegates by a sliver of a margin vs. a candidate who won more popular votes out of more than 34 million cast -- and virtually all the battleground and border states -- it may well be that Senator Obama some day will ask senior officials in his campaign organization -- "why did we fight over four delegates when we didn't need to?"

I can just hear someone answering him,

"Beats me."