By RICK KLEIN with JOHN SANTUCCI (ABC News)
While Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes us sit through math class (and threatens to keep us after school to finish our social studies homework), Sen. Barack Obama would rather be at football practice, getting ready for the big game. (Sen. John McCain, facing a new pastor problem, is trying to get out of detention.)
On just one day on the trail, Clinton, your champion of democracy . . . accused the Democratic National Committee of a policy that violates “our most fundamental values as Democrats and Americans”; placed a disagreement over convention delegates alongside battles over slavery and women’s suffrage; and equated the spat over Florida and Michigan with disputed elections in brutal Zimbabwe.
(Quick — let’s make sure Camp Clinton was OK with the voting on “American Idol.” If you live in Florida or Michigan, and you picked David Archuleta, you might have a champion for your cause.)
It all points to one ugly endgame to the Democratic nomination. Clinton, D-N.Y., doesn’t have to directly attack Obama for her message to be heard: These same crowds will soon be told that it’s time to support Obama (presumably by Clinton, among many others) are now hearing (essentially) that the candidate is standing in the way of their constitutional rights.
“On the trail and in interviews, she raised a new battle cry of determination, likening her struggle for these delegates to the nation’s historic struggles to free the slaves and grant women the right to vote,” Katharine Q. Seelye and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.
It’s Clinton’s “most emphatic argument yet for counting the votes in Michigan and Florida,” per ABC’s Eloise Harper, made in a place that knows a thing or two about disputed elections: Palm Beach County, Fla.
(OK — so we can agree that Denver is not Seneca Falls. But how long before Obama, D-Ill., just lets Clinton have her delegates? Even the best-case scenario for Clinton erases barely a roughly a quarter of her 194-delegate deficit.)
Obama tells the St. Petersburg Times’ Adam C. Smith that giving Florida half of its allotted delegates would be “a very reasonable solution,” but said the primary shouldn’t be allowed to count fully: “It’s pretty hard to make an argument that somehow you winning what is essentially a name recognition contest in Florida was a good measure of electoral strength there,” Obama said.
Responded Clinton: “I think that is disingenuous but it’s also insulting to the 1.7-million Floridians who actually turned out to vote,” she said, per Smith, “recounting a South Florida canasta club that fervently followed the primary.”
(“Disingenuous”? From the candidate who says she’s winning the popular vote? “Insulting”? Remind us again of who’s trying to change the rules?)
Obama strategist David Axelrod also offers an olive branch — with perhaps slightly longer reach than Obama’s: “We are open to compromise. We’re willing to go more than halfway,” he tells NPR’s Michele Norris. “I guess the question is: Is Senator Clinton’s campaign willing to do the same?”
Axelrod tells the Times: “If that means we have to make some sacrifices . . . we are open to do so, within reason.”
But if you were looking for a conciliatory tone, you came to the wrong candidate: “Her tone was a departure from the fiery populist rhetoric of recent days, in which she has cast herself as an underdog,” Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post. “Instead, in a soft, almost pleading voice, she said she believed that ‘whether you voted for me or Senator Obama or Senator Edwards, each vote is a prayer for our nation.’ ”
This isn’t the talk of someone who wants a compromise: “I’m told that more people have voted for me than for anyone who has ever run for the Democratic nomination.”
In addition to being irrelevant (the team with the most points, not the most rushing yards, wins), it is almost certainly inaccurate in fact as well as in spirit for Clinton to claim to be winning the popular vote, as ABC Polling Director Gary Langer points out. (Unless you believe that only 1,677 Iowans showed up at the caucuses — yes, statewide.)
“It’s a race for delegates,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reminds us. “If Clinton gets the nomination and then goes on to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college, there won’t be any super-electors to appeal to. You run the race according to the rules. And according to the rules, Obama leads in delegates overall, pledged delegates, superdelegates, and the popular vote. Neither candidate has yet secured the proper number of delegates to win the nomination.”
“For a party scarred by the experience of 2000, when Al Gore received 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush but lost the presidency, this argument is sure to make it harder to unite and put bitter feelings aside,” Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter writes. “Oh, and it’s not true. . . . If the Obama people have any sense, they will demand in their negotiations with the Clintonites that Hillary cease and desist in her specious claim to have won the most popular votes.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., remembers her rules: “The person who has the most delegates becomes the nominee of the party,” Pelosi told PBS’s Judy Woodruff on Wednesday. “It’s not been about the popular vote.” (But she won’t follow the delegate leaders just yet: “I will endorse when we have a nominee,” she said.)
In the delegate race, the continued trickle of supers leaves Obama just 61 delegates away from securing the nomination, per ABC’s delegate scorecard.
Clinton has earned the right to set some terms for her exit — but it’s hard to divine exactly what she wants.
What HE wants: “In Bill Clinton’s view, she has earned nothing short of an offer to be Obama’s running mate, according to some who are close to the former President,” Time’s Karen Tumulty reports. “Even if Clinton is not on the ticket, the list of things she might want could range from a tangible move like help in paying off some of her campaign debt to a symbolic gesture of homage at the Democratic National Convention.”
And wouldn’t this be fun? “Several party officials believe she is likely to insist that her name be placed in nomination on the first ballot [at the convention], opening up all the divisions once again,” Tumulty writes.
How ugly will this get? “It is possible to muscle your way into a vice presidential nod: You have something the nominee wants, and he has to give it to you,” Politico’s Roger Simon writes. “The question is: Does Hillary Clinton have that kind of muscle?” Said a senior Obama adviser, wary of the Clinton push: “You don’t want your vice president taking away anything from the ticket, and she does.”
May 31 is your next big day — and it will be a show. “Busloads of Hillary Clinton supporters will swarm a meeting next week at a D.C. Marriott, where Democratic Party elders hope to forge a compromise over Florida and Michigan’s now-voided convention delegates,” Michael Saul and Ken Bazinet write in the New York Daily News. “Hoping to avoid a free-for-all at the powwow, the party laid down tough ground rules on Wednesday for its May 31 meeting: ‘In order to maintain the decorum of the meeting, banners, posters, signs, handouts and noisemakers of any kind are strictly prohibited.’ ”
“For Clinton, it is crucial to turn the issue of seating the Florida and Michigan delegations into a matter of moral and civic principle if she is to gain traction among the members of the Rules Committee,” Huffington Post’s Tom Edsall writes.
Maybe a resolution to Florida and Michigan is all it will take to heal the party: “For all the talk that Clinton would rather blow up the party than see Obama chosen as the Democratic nominee, there seems to be little evidence that Clinton or her campaign are planning to push this fight to the convention,” Washingtonpost.com’s Chris Cillizza writes. “If [Obama reaches the magic number] by June 15 or June 30 — and if some sort of accommodation has been made that satisfies Florida and Michigan — it’s hard to imagine Clinton staying in.”
If it doesn’t work out — there’s always Chelsea. Bill Clinton tells People magazine that his daughter’s “emergence” as a campaigner has been the “second best thing” about this race. “If you asked me [if Chelsea would run for office] before Iowa, I would have said, ‘No way. She is too allergic to anything we do.’ But she is really good at it,” he said.
This, we presume, serves as a blanket apology: “When I was so tired, I either was not as precise as I should have been or I seemed angrier than I would have been. That’s always my mistake. If I am to have any blame, that’s it,” the former president said.