Ask random passersby on an street corner to name the democrats' nominee for president. Among those who follow politics at all, 99.9 percent will answer, "Obama."
If Heidi Li Feldman, a blogger and a professor of law (and philosophy) at Georgetown University Law Center, and Marc Rubin, a blogger, veteran ad man, and movie and TV writer -- head writer for "The White Shadow" -- happened by, they would say there is no nominee yet, that the two ended the primary/caucus season in "a virtual tie," in Feldman's words, neither of them having the requisite number of pledged delegates to claim the prize. 2118 are needed; Obama got there only with the help of superdelegates who are free, Feldman says, to change their minds until they actually cast a vote at the convention in Denver late next month. That's when, if Feldman and Rubin, who co-founded and are the only official members of The Denver Group, have anything to say about it -- and of course they don't -- the superdelegates, in accordance with DNC rules and bylaws, should be called on to reconsider who is the stronger candidate against John McCain.
Both candidates, Feldman says, must be placed in nomination "and superdelegates left to vote as they see fit because ....[they] are specifically charged" with the duty of making certain that the party's candidate is electable. She refers to the McGovern Commission that set up the superdelegate system to provide a "safety hatch" after the "McGovern debacle" of 1972. The Denver Group duo claim that superdelegates are having "buyers' remorse," that they are coming to believe that Obama is not electable.
Feldman, 43, who raised money for Hillary during the primaries -- she says that she thinks she is one of Hillary's biggest "small dollar" fundraisers -- has also worked to help Hillary retire her debt. She says that Obama's electablility is "in grave doubt as of today." Arguing that 9 million of Hillary's 18 million voters have not come to terms with voting for Hillary, Marc Rubin agrees: "I believe he's not electable." When asked how many of these 9 million will actually vote for McCain, Rubin estimates 4 1/2 million. He cites a Rasmussen poll, released on July 15, that shows Hillary running stronger than Obama against McCain. The fact that Rasmussen even polled on that question; a question that had faded from polling after June 7 when Hillary threw her support -- but not necessarily her supporters -- to Obama resonates with Rubin.
In Feldman's telling the villain in this piece is DNC head Howard Dean, who, she complains, will not return her calls. Feldman casts in a supporting role Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She charges them with pressuring superdelegates to back Obama to advance party unity, scrapping the McGovern "fail-safe mechanism" of superdelegates "exercis[ing] their judgment and vot[ing] accordingly." They should not have been pushed to declare "two months before... Lots of different things can happen between the end of the primary season and the end of August. That's exactly the process that Dr. Dean has attempted... to subvert, by... basically scare mongering. [...] If superdelegates don't say that they're going to vote for Sen. Obama then there's no way we can beat Sen. McCain."
And it's not just her, says Feldman. "I really could not believe the way the DNC was treating Sen. Clinton's constituency." She claims that she would receive posts on her blog from people who were trying to reach the DNC "to ask questions about the procedures that were being used at the convention, and no one would return their calls." She claims that her current activities are intended "to save the DNC from itself."
Rubin, 60, sees Obama as the villain -- he genuinely doesn't like him, calling him "the most underhanded politician since Richard Nixon;" and depicting him as a kind of flim-flam man/flip-flopper (on FISA and public financing, for example) whose supporters are like "cultists." If Obama tells them that the sun rises in the south, they say, "Oh, yes, the sun rises in the south." He adds that "I do not oppose Sen. Obama simply because I support Hillary Clinton. I oppose Sen. Obama because I don't think he's qualified to do the job... He does not seem to have any convictions. He's betrayed most of the people who supported him."
Rubin also blames "the leadership of the DNC," which, he says, "has been trying to push Obama as the nominee for a long time." The problem for the democrats in November, Rubin adds, is that Hillary's supporters "resent that it has looked like a rigged playing field for months and months and months." Rubin jokes that Dean and Pelosi "sleep with the night light on because they think Karl Rove is hiding in their closets... They seem to be afraid of this idea of there being a contentious convention."
The Denver Group's latest ad -- they have run two so far in the Chicago Tribune and the Congressional Quarterly -- pointed out that FDR in 1932 won the nomination on the 4th ballot. Feldman describes the Group as having "a very discreet mission. It's to buy ad space to try to get our message across to the American public and specifically to the DNC that they are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing to have [...] a genuine and authentic nominating convention."
Dean is not responding, and Feldman predicts another defeat for the democrats in an election that was supposed to be a cakewalk. She calls McCain "a savvy politician" and argues that the "DNC leadership" is making a mistake by assuming McCain can be beaten "because you wish him to be beaten or because he's coming on the throes of an unpopular Republican administration." Feldman calls it "pathetic" and "absurd" that McCain's "outreach effort to disaffected Clinton voters was better handled than anything that Sen. Obama or Howard Dean has done."
When she called the DNC -- the ads, she admits, are in part a means of getting Dean's attention -- to demand that it follow its own rules contained in a document titled "The Call to the Convention," she was referred to Barack Obama's spokesman. "The last time I checked Sen. Obama is not the head of the DNC." Asked why the only newspaper buy for the ads was the Chicago Tribune, she answers that Obama moved the DNC to Chicago before, according to Feldman's reading of the rules, he has actually won the nomination.
My opinion, and I followed the Obama/Clinton battle for the nomination closely for my recently published book, Clinton in Exile, about Bill's post presidency, is that if anyone thinks Obama is not going to be the nominee, let me tell you about this soaring bridge in Brooklyn that I have for sale. As I mentioned to Feldman and Rubin during interviews last week, Obama did not rent Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos, for his acceptance speech in Denver because he thought he might be lending it to Hillary to accept the nomination. Feldman agrees that the odds of the democrats running "the sort of convention that would make [me] feel there was a legitimate nominee are very slim."
On the other hand, while Hillary -- and to a much lesser degree, Bill -- claims that she will do everything she can to help Obama become the vice president, she has not released her delegates. That fact inspires Feldman and Rubin and other Hillary stalwarts. "She didn't go through a grueling primary campaign because she didn't want the nomination and didn't want to be elected," says Rubin. While he has heard from no one in the Clinton campaign, "No one has told us to stop what we're doing."
If the party's nominee is Obama, both Feldman and Rubin say they will not vote for him. Rubin, who says he has never voted Republican, explains, "I don't have any plans to vote for Sen. McCain" and will "probably will just simply not vote at all." Feldman hedges saying "not at this point" when asked if she'll vote for Obama. "I will leave that line blank," she says, adding that she would not vote for McCain. "If they hold a genuine contest," she adds, "where superdelegates are not pressured by anybody to vote either candidate, but are asked to think about who can beat John McCain and there are no side deals, and there is no favoritism shown toward either of the two candidates. I would be very receptive to voting for whoever won."
Both founders of the Denver Group cite sexism/ misogyny as the reasons for Clinton's primary/caucus losses. After a debate in February, Feldman recalls, "all the male candidates [were] chit chatting with one another and quite deliberately exclude[ed] Sen Clinton. I thought to myself, this is annoying; this looks like boys on a playground." Rubin, who claims that 40 percent of Hillary supporters are men, decries the coarse, sexist comments that an earlier Thomas Edsall post about the Denver Group generated. Rubin notes that although he, on his personal blog, Tom in Paine, uttered the only negative words about Obama -- the Nixon comparison later quoted by Edsall -- the vitriol was addressed solely to Heidi Li Feldman who was quoted as saying nothing negative about Obama. "Heidi got nothing but hate mail. I got absolutely nothing... 'You racist bitch,' and calling her the C word."
Neither Rubin nor Feldman know Hillary. Feldman, who calls herself an "ardent" Hillary supporter -- she and her husband gave the maximum during the primaries -- is adamant that Hillary Clinton has no role in the Denver Group. "I've had no contact with the Clinton campaign.... I have no idea whether the Clinton campaign is aware of our existence." She says the extent of her acquaintance with Hillary is to have shaken her hand three times, twice at events for several hundred at Whitehaven (Hillary's house on Embassy Row in Washington). (Marc Rubin has never met Hillary and says he has had "zero" contact with her campaign.)
Although she holds no credentials, Feldman and her husband will be traveling to Denver, which, she says, will count as their vacation because the $4600 they gave to Hillary's campaign means no travel to Europe this year. "I'm not a trust fund baby." She will blog there and do what she can to see that Hillary gets a roll call vote of the states. Rubin, who lives in Manhattan, says there's a "good chance" he'll go, but only if it looks like Hillary's name will be placed in nomination.
Both Feldman and Rubin want a fight in Denver and their high-sounding words are really a threat that a big enough chunk of Hillary's backers will not fall in line and Obama will lose. "Americans like what they perceive to be fair dispute resolution processes. They lose interest and will not participate in processes that they believe are rigged or corrupt," she says, accusing Dean and Pelosi of "trying to game the superdelegate system."
Rubin agrees: "Howard Dean seems to be afraid and pretends everything is just rosy and... it's just not true. We can't possibly win anything on a lie and he's just trying to promote this totally false idea of party unity. The best thing that could happen to the democratic party would be for there to be an open, honest, contentious convention where everybody could get everything off their chests and [...] fight it out and then when it's all over [...] at least the losers could feel they were given their best shot. Right now they feel that the playing field is totally slanted against them, that Obama and Dean and Pelosi are trying to rig this whole thing [...] I believe they don't want [a state-by-state roll call vote] because I think they're afraid that Obama is going to lose." Rubin gets down to the nitty gritty when he proclaims "There is a war going on between Clinton supporters and Obama supporters. They hate each others' guts."
Rubin draws hope that Hillary's name will be put into nomination because of the polls -- although our conversation occurs a couple of days before Obama's foreign tour gave him a bounce that had him up eight points in the Gallup poll. (Other polls were much less favorable to Obama.) Still, the surprising closeness of the race and Obama's inability to break 50 percent has to be "extremely worrisome to the Democratic party," says Rubin,"simply because this is a year that the Democrats were supposed to win in a cakewalk."
Feldman calls it difficult but not impossible to imagine Dean saying, "The situation has changed. We thought that our best strategy was to proclaim [Obama] the presumptive nominee without regard to our actual procedures for picking a nominee, but we realize now, oops, we made a mistake. [....] There is a small, but not vanishingly small possibility that they will open the convention mostly because that would protect Speaker Pelosi and Howard Dean because then instead of everyone saying they crammed a candidate down everyone's' throat as that candidate was tanking in the polls, they would say we didn't cram anyone down anyone's throat. We let the superdelgates pick."
When asked whether Clinton's supporters would be mollified by Obama putting her on the ticket, Feldman says that she has heard -- but has no idea whether or not it's true -- that he has offered Hillary the VP and she has turned it down Feldman also says that she doesn't care, "Vice presidential candidates don't win presidential elections and they don't lose them either. It makes no difference to me who they put up."
Seeming to concede that this quest is probably doomed and that Obama will be the nominee, Rubin says that Hillary Clinton will be looking toward 2012 and guesses that she would decline an offer of the VP slot. Should Obama lose in 2008, as Rubin not only predicts but seems to hope he will, and Hillary is on the ticket as Obama's VP, the party establishment, Rubin charges, will blame Hillary, which will hurt her in 2012 when she grabs her real chance to capture the Oval Office.