If you punched your ballot for "uncommitted" in Michigan's Jan. 15 Democratic presidential primary to back Barack Obama, your vote might have essentially gone to Hillary Clinton anyway.
While all eyes were locked on Pennsylvania for the last six weeks, Clinton was quietly amassing delegates in the Wolverine State. And she was rewarded this past weekend with a significant victory at the district conventions.
This development naturally has been overshadowed by her big win Tuesday night in Pennsylvania. But the race for the Democratic nomination wasn't decided then and won't be by the remaining contests -- not North Carolina, Indiana or even Guam -- because the real fight is over delegates. And Michigan remains a key battleground.
On Aug. 25, Clinton will march into the national convention in Denver stronger than most people realize, thanks to her aggressive ground game in Michigan.
Buoyed by party elder support, Clinton seems likely to capture more than 60 percent of the state's 128 pledged delegates, according to an analysis by the Michigan Information & Research Service. Including the 28 superdelegates, which lean heavily in the New York senator's favor, she could win upward of 70 percent of delegates, provided that they're seated with full voting power.
That depends on the Democratic National Committee, which punished Michigan for leapfrogging the primary schedule. There is no deal yet to seat the delegation. But the Clinton camp is working overtime to ensure the elected slate is sent. Keep in mind that Clinton won 55 percent to uncommitted's 40 percent since Obama wasn't on the ballot. He has pushed for a 50-50 percent delegate split, but that proposal hasn't gained traction.
It's becoming apparent that Obama should have consented to a revote here. He certainly wouldn't have lost by 15 percentage points or more; polls have pegged the pair in a dead heat. But Obama seemed spooked that Clintonites put forth the plan and the money, so he quashed the do-over last month.
Now Obama is paying the price in delegates, starting with the Michigan Democratic Party's 15 district conventions on Saturday. The Clinton battle plan was flawlessly executed with an eye toward a contested convention. Their delegate roster is crammed with big names like former Gov. Jim Blanchard and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
"We wanted to pick people who would be loyal to Hillary, who would commit to her through multiple ballots," Blanchard says.
Michiganders for Obama, a ragtag group of new volunteers, triumphed in turnout Saturday but were steamrolled by the Clinton machine. Obama has proved to be a master of organization, but he made a tactical error not to plump up his skeletal apparatus in Michigan.
As a result, he will almost certainly fall short of the 36 uncommitted delegates selected. Volunteers argued that only Obama supporters should be uncommitted delegates, but they were outmaneuvered. About half of the uncommitted delegates reserved the right to vote for Clinton, depending on whom their unions eventually endorse.
While union officials flatly deny they're in the tank for Clinton, Obama supporters point out that United Auto Workers Legislative Coordinator Nadine Nosal was elected in the 8th District as an alternate Clinton delegate. That underscores the fact that Obama's speech to the Detroit Economic Club last year, calling for higher federal fuel economy standards, went over with labor leaders like a lead balloon.
In May, the party's labor-heavy, Clinton-friendly central committee chooses the remaining 45 delegates, setting up a scenario of more uncommitted delegates switching to Clinton.
Given her narrow path to the nomination, Clinton and her aides have argued that pledged delegates are fair game to flip. Although they've since backed away from such statements, the Michigan delegate conventions show the Clinton delegate strategy is being set into motion. What this could mean is four very interesting days in Denver. Although the odds still favor Obama -- who leads in delegates, the popular vote and states won -- he has to be a bit rattled over two losses in one week.
If Clinton comes out on top in a floor war, we might well look back at the Michigan mêlée as the turning point.