It makes sense for the Florida and Michigan delegations to be sanctioned by the DNC, as has now happened. If the Democratic Party is going to win elections, you can't have states capriciously violating agreed-on rules. But an equally critical reason to dock the states delegations is that for a relatively unknown challenger like Obama, taking on someone as massively visible as Clinton, in-person campaigning is essential, and he had no chance to do it there. Obama's campaigning has played a critical role in every contested race in his once-underdog fight, both those he won, and those where he closed the gap, though lost.
In Wisconsin, for instance, Clinton led Obama by a 10 to 20-point margin throughout last fall, and continued to lead through December. By mid-February, Obama took a narrow lead, but only after he began seriously campaigning did he open up his eventual 17-point margin. The same was true in Virginia. Obama started in late October was down by 24 points down, opened up a 15 to-18 point margin after he won Iowa and South Carolina and held his own on SuperTuesday, then ended up winning by 28 points after he visited enough key cities to get his message blanketing the media. Major states that Obama lost had a similar pattern. Clinton was ahead by nearly 30 points in Ohio in October, and by 21 a month before the primary. Obama closed the gap to 10 percent, and the gap would have been narrower still without the interventions of Rush Limbaugh and Clinton's spurious NAFTAgate charges. The same process occurred in Pennsylvania. A month before the vote Clinton had a 19-percent lead. She ended up with 9 percent. Part of this was the strength of Obama's get-out-the-vote efforts, efforts he had no chance to exercise in Florida. But voters also got the chance to see him on their local media and in their local communities, and this made a major difference, even with the emergence of the Jeremiah Wright controversy. The more they got to know Obama, the more they liked him.
I'm not saying that Obama would have necessarily beaten Clinton in Florida (though I think he would have in Michigan). But her mid-January leads were no greater than those she held at a similar point before the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries. With a chance to give people a sense of what he'd done and what he'd stood for, plus an election people knew would count, there's every reason to think Obama would have cut Clinton's 17-percent margin in half, if not more. With Obama demographically far more competitive in Michigan, and the state's current polls showing him running as well or better than Clinton against McCain, I think he'd likely have won there.
Not having the chance to fully campaign also hurt Obama in key states with fully legitimate elections. For instance, he had time to make just three stops in California between the Iowa victory that marked him as an unarguable contender and the SuperTuesday primary, and only one stop in New York. With greater exposure, he likely would have closed both gaps. That's especially true given that California's early voting rules meant that as many as half the California ballots may have been cast before Super Tuesday--which means that many people voted before the Ted Kennedy endorsement, before the campaign stops Obama was able to make, and before his massive Los Angeles Oprah rally three days before the election. A new Field poll now finds Obama leading Clinton by 13 points among California Democrats, a 23-point shift of buyer's remorse from Clinton's original ten point victory.
But while I believe SuperTuesday was created in part to help insider front-runners against outsider challengers (it also originally emphasized southern states, to promote a more conservative politics), the elections held on that day still represented the will of Democratic voters at that current moment. For elections held with no direct exposure to the major candidates, where many voters stayed home because they knew the results would be meaningless, and where in Michigan, Obama was not even on the ballot, you cannot say the same.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, and Soul of a Citizen. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles