Primary Concern: Florida and Michigan


By Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.

At her campaign celebration last night in Ohio, Hillary Clinton raised the specter of a nasty, divisive fight at the Democratic National Convention, claiming that she should be the party’s nominee based on her big state victories, rather than on the pledged-delegate count. It was a slick and sophisticated attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game and declare herself the winner.

She said, "You all know that if we want a Democratic president, we need a Democratic nominee who can win the battleground states just like Ohio. And that is what we’ve done." Then, she listed the states she "won," boldly including Florida and Michigan in the litany.

Weeks before her boast, Julian Bond, the Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and one of my heroes, penned a letter to DNC Chair Howard Dean noting that he is “deeply concerned” about the “will and intent of the Florida and Michigan voters.”

But, both Clinton and Bond leave several important facts off the table.

First, the rules. They were known and agreed to by everyone involved, well before the first votes were cast in Iowa. All the campaigns, including the Clinton campaign, pledged to honor the “early window” that included only four states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Enforcement of the primary timing rule against Florida and Michigan was necessary to prevent the 2008 nominating calendar from falling into chaos. Moreover, a decision to overturn this action by the DNC could destroy our nominating process for 2012 and future years, as states realize that there will be no penalty for violating the primary timing rule.

Second, the DNC’s Rules Bylaws Committee gave both Florida and Michigan a full and fair hearing, plus an open and transparent vote, and their efforts to “jump to the head of the line” were soundly defeated. No other state party organization or Rules Committee members supported them. None of the campaigns—including the Clinton campaign, which is very well represented on the Rules Committee—spoke up for the principle of allowing Florida and Michigan to go ahead of the other states.

Third, the new 2008 primary calendar was painstakingly worked out for the very purpose of increasing early voting diversity. Along with Iowa and New Hampshire, most Democrats agreed that both Latinos and African Americans should be added to the early voting equation. Adding Nevada and South Carolina to the early calendar increased regional and racial diversity while protecting the grassroots, small state nature of the early primary process. The DNC was right to protect these two states from encroachment in the calendar by Florida and Michigan.

Fourth, since there was no campaigning in either Florida or Michigan, and neither the names of Obama nor Edwards even appeared on the Michigan ballot, the idea that the votes cast there represent “the will and intent” of the people is nonsense. We must not allow the uncontested primaries in Florida and Michigan to “nullify” the will of the large mass of voters in all of the hotly-contested primaries and caucuses around the country where the candidates did campaign and the voters had the chance to meet the candidates, ask questions, hear their message and make an informed decision on who would be the best nominee for the Democratic Party.

Finally, I want to be clear that this is a disagreement between the DNC and the Florida and Michigan State Democratic Parties. This is not—and should not become—an argument between Senator Obama and the voters of Florida or Michigan. Senator Obama will reach out to the voters in Florida and Michigan as the presidential nominee of our Party, and will work hard to carry these two important states for Democrats in the November election.

Congressman Jackson is serving his seventh term in the US House and is a National Co-Chairman of the Obama for President Campaign.