Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nominating System Puts Power in Wrong Hands for Democrats

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are set to debate tonight in Texas. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But with Obama on a post-Super Tuesday run of 11 straight victories (including winning the Democrats Abroad primary), Clinton is desperate to score a win to stop his momentum. In an article on today, the network's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, said: "Texas is the end game. Hillary Clinton has to stop Obama in Texas." And, to me, that is a problem.

No, I'm not talking about the fact that it's time for Clinton to drop out of the race so that Democrats can rally around the surging Obama and begin taking aim at presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, who has already started firing at Obama. While I believe she should do so, that's not my point today. Rather, I find the fact that Democrats in Texas will play such a major role in picking the nominee to be bad for the party's chances in November.

Nothing personal against the Democratic faithful in the Lone Star State. In fact, I would imagine being a Democrat in bright-red Texas requires substantially more steel and commitment than is asked of me in true-blue New York. But strictly in the realm of planning for a victory in the general election, Democrats shouldn't give a lick about the thoughts of the party's voters in Texas, because come November, Texas is a state the Democrats can't win. Similarly, the party shouldn't care about who I vote for, since the GOP doesn't stand a chance in New York.

As I wrote last week in an article arguing that Obama is more electable than Clinton, of the 51 states (including Washington, D.C.) with electoral votes, the outcome in 35 of them is virtually assured for one or the other party, regardless of who runs. That leaves only 16 states where the result could realistically go either way. And Texas is definitely not one of those states. Ohio, which also holds its primary on the same day as Texas, March 4, is contested, and I am way more interested in what Buckeye voters think than their friends to the south.

I understand that, realistically, there is no way the Democratic Party could decide to only count the delegates from states that could be contested in November. So I'm not proposing that the system actually be changed to disenfranchise any states. But this sad fact doesn't stop me from lamenting the reality that voters who will have no effect on choosing the next president in the general election will play a leading part in choosing the Democratic nominee.

I would urge the brave Democrats in Texas to look at the results in the 11 states that are in play in November who have already held their contests (Ohio votes the same day as Texas, Pennsylvania's primary is set for April 22, West Virginia's primary will be May 13, and Michigan and Florida didn't hold truly contested votes because their delegates were stripped for moving their primaries too early in the calendar) and examine who has the best chance to win in November, before making their choices. At least if they want to see a Democrat inaugurated in January 2009.

Democratic voters in Texas, who will play no role in November, hold the power to seal the nomination for Obama, or breathe new life into the Clinton campaign. And that could be damaging to the party's fortunes in the general election. Lone Star Democrats have proven that they're tough. Let's hope they can also make the right decision.