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Dean Certainly Has Chutzpah

By Peter Brown

You've got to give Howard Dean credit for chutzpah if nothing else.

But he might want to wonder if the White House is worth fighting with your own folks over a few (million) shekels.

The Democratic National Committee chairman has finally realized that his effort to teach state Democratic parties a lesson has backfired and he must prevent his spat with Michigan and Florida from ruining the party's national convention.

If not, the Democrats face the kind of convention that could both badly split the party and provide a televised drama that might well make millions of voters reconsider their initial inclination to toss the Republicans from power.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Texas and Ohio victories made clear that the Democrats must deal with the Florida and Michigan problem sooner rather than later.

Dean now wants each of them to have "do over" votes to pick the convention delegates he stripped from them.

But he insists that because the state parties created the problem to begin with, they must pay the many millions of dollars such primaries or caucuses would cost.

Dean, who has been known to let out a scream or two, might have been doing just that when her victories forced him to reconsider his position that Florida and Michigan didn't deserve representation.

If Dean can't orchestrate a solution, then he could preside over the kind of divisive convention fight that has not been seen in almost a century, and make GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain very happy.

But this time there would be television cameras to capture every moment.

That would generate wonderful TV ratings but probably split the party badly - and turn off independent voters - heading into the November election.

For those of you who have been visiting Venus, Dean and his DNC decided to teach Florida and Michigan a lesson.

Those states held their primaries before he said they could, so he and the DNC ruled their votes would not pick any delegates.

It was an easy decision at the time last year.

The DNC made an example of Florida and Michigan so that other states would not in the future challenge its authority.

Editorialists applauded the DNC for bringing order to the chaotic process.

Everyone expected Clinton would sew up the nomination early. It was assumed that she would then, as the leader of the party, magnanimously seat those states' delegations and the whole problem would go away.

But a funny thing (well, not to Dean and the DNC) happened on the way to the convention. Obama became a serious rival for the nomination, and the primaries took on a whole different look.

This nomination fight could well go for months and perhaps all the way to the Aug. 25-28 convention in Denver. It is impossible to imagine the Democratic Party - the folks whose mantra is "count every vote" - will allow just 48 states to pick the nominee.

Clinton won the Florida and Michigan primaries easily, but no candidates campaigned in either state, per the DNC rules. In Michigan, Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. But Clinton got no delegates for her trouble.

Her supporters now say the results from those primaries should count, even though that would mean Obama would be penalized for following party rules and staying out.

The easy way out would be to get all sides to agree to split the Michigan and Florida delegates. But why would Clinton or Obama sign a deal that gave the other an edge?

What's left is a "do over."

It seems highly unlikely that either state legislature would hold another primary, because that would cost taxpayers millions.

The likely alternative is some sort of primary or caucus run by the Democratic Party. Those, too, would be expensive, and the Democrats would have to pay for them.

But Dean wants the state parties to pay and they say they don't have the money. Dean says the DNC needs its pennies to fight those big, bad Republicans.

Of course, given the prolific fundraising the Democrats have demonstrated this year, some fat cat might write a check to finance the whole thing.

But that could have its own downside in media coverage, not to mention whether such a donation would be legal.

After all, we've never been here before.

But one thing is certain.

If the Democrats don't get the problem behind them, they will have to pay the piper at the convention with a credentials-fight Armageddon.

Teaching the states a lesson probably doesn't seem like such a good idea now, does it, Howard?

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

This article first appeared on Politico.com


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