Thursday, April 24, 2008

Did Clinton Forces Infiltrate "Uncommitted" Delegates at Michigan Dem Convention?

by Susan J. Demas

Buzzflash Guest Contribution

If you voted "uncommitted" in the Michigan primary to support Barack Obama, your vote might have essentially gone to Hillary Clinton anyway.

The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) has learned that some of the 36 uncommitted delegates chosen at Saturday's district conventions say they're staying uncommitted and not backing Obama. That seems curious, because there are only two candidates left in the race and those backing Clinton could have caucused for her.

Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Mark Brewer gave those exact instructions to those attending the 15 sites. But Obama supporters say they might not have been heeded to give Clinton even more than the 55 percent of delegates she won on January 15.

This could be a harbinger of what is to come. A MIRS analysis of superdelegates shows most favor Clinton (See "Advantage Clinton In MI Super Delegate Hunt," 3/19/08). The central committee will choose another 45 pledged delegates, and party elders are largely pro-Hillary. When all is said and done, Clinton likely will walk away with more than 60 percent of Michigan's pledged and superdelegates, perhaps more than 70 percent.

That is if the delegates are seated with full voting power. Negotiations are still ongoing with the Democratic National Committee, although it's not clear what the makeup would be. Obama has proposed splitting them 50-50. So there's a chance more chaos could ensue down the road, although MDP spokeswoman Liz Kerr said they'll cross that bridge when it comes.

Clinton, by and large, had the establishment on Saturday. Former Governor Jim Blanchard, who didn't attend the 9th District, but was elected a delegate, said the Clinton forces were well organized with an eye toward a contested convention. "We wanted to pick people who would be loyal to Hillary, who would commit to her through multiple ballots," said Blanchard.

There was Michiganders for Obama, an upstart group trying to organize but it was behind the curve since the candidate never campaigned here.

Some Obama supporters were especially suspicious on Saturday of the "unity slates" made up of members of the UAW, which hasn't endorsed a candidate. Attendees said there were shouting matches and massive confusion at the 9th District convention. UAW member Catherine Martin was elected as an uncommitted delegate and plans to stay that way until the union endorses.

State Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi (D-Farmington Hills), an elected Obama delegate, points out Martin was elected by an "overwhelmingly Obama crowd."

The problem is the perception that the UAW backs Clinton. Nadine Nosal, legislative coordinator for the UAW, was elected in the 8th District as an alternate delegate supporting Clinton.

The UAW flatly denies it's pro-Clinton. Nosal said the union put delegate candidates in both caucuses because it's neutral. As for the Obama supporters' criticism, she said, "I don't perceive it to be what they're saying."

The Clinton campaign has been unusually quiet about the Michigan conventions. Clinton and national advisers have said that Obama's pledged delegates are fair game to flip, although they've backed away from statements afterward. Still, Clinton is making an aggressive behind-the-scenes push with superdelegates and to massage the nominating process to ensure she gets the nomination, even if she's behind in the delegate count, popular vote, and states won.

The MDP hasn't released an official list of the 83 delegates and 15 alternates. Kerr said it hasn't been policy to do so in past years until a few days before the national convention.

The remaining 45 of the 128 pledged delegates will be selected at the central committee meeting in May.

Derrick Johnson is an uncommitted delegate from the 15th District who supports Obama and also is head of the Washtenaw County Board of Elections. He said he's heard from Obama backers in other districts who were concerned they were outmaneuvered by Clinton supporters.

"If you're uncommitted, our message is that you shouldn't be uncommitted now. There are only two people left. If you support Clinton, there's a process for her delegates. Uncommitted should be for Obama," Johnson said. "It wasn't a problem in our district, but I think we had a different culture there than in some others."

Vagnozzi said there were four times as many Obama supporters than Clinton backers in the 9th, which seems to fit the statewide pattern. But the MDP doesn't have attendance numbers yet.

When asked if that was surprising, given the fact that Clinton won the primary, Vagnozzi said, "I think it shows the election wasn't an accurate reflection. Obama wasn't on the ballot. Clinton was."

He said the most important thing is for the delegation to be seated, because a Democrat will never win the White House without Florida and Michigan.

Vagnozzi acknowledges that scenario doesn't favor Obama.

"It might, but it's much more important to seat Michigan than any downside to it."

Nosal said it was her "hope and prayer" that the Democrats rally around the nominee whenever that's decided. "We need to come together. We need to elect a Democrat -- I feel so strongly about that. Otherwise, we'll have four more years of what we've already had eight years of."

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