Msnbc: Tim, is there a real plan to give Democrats in Florida and Michigan another opportunity to have a say in picking a presidential nominee?
Russert: Well, Florida first. The Democratic Party chairman has floated this idea. It was supported by Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. But the Democrats in the House, both those for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, have come out against it -- which puts that idea in real jeopardy. So, Florida is probably less likely.
Michigan, it appeared Thursday, that the governor, the state legislature, and the labor unions had all come together and talked about a total re-do – a new primary – in June, funded by private sources. They’d have to change the state law to allow that kind of funding.
The discussion will go on. Both campaigns, obviously, trying to find a way to seat these delegations and have these states represented at the convention, but to do so in their own interest – trying to protect their delegate count. And the discussions go on.
Msnbc: One of the latest proposals being floated has Florida delegates getting half a vote each and the Michigan delegation being seated 50-50 with Obama and Clinton delegates. Who’s happy with that?
Russert: Democrats are trying to find a way to say to Michigan and Florida, “We love you – and we’re going to love you even more in November.” They’re important states, so they need to be shown some respect. But both campaigns want to gain advantage from any type of compromise.
Obama is ahead in elected delegate count by about 160. He doesn’t want to jeopardize that. Hillary Clinton desperately needs to close that gap.
So the discussion and negations go on and on and on. My guess is they’ll reach some compromise.
Msnbc: One numerical analysis says if they go ahead with that compromise, Clinton might gain in the teens, 15-20 delegates. Is that accurate?
Russert: Yeah, and then the superdelegates would be allowed to vote, so she’d pick up some more. It would probably be a net gain or probably 30-35 for her in the two states and the Obama campaign could probably absorb that if, in fact, they keep things reasonably close in Pennsylvania and then win Indiana and North Carolina on May 6.
This is a mathematical game. These people are all negotiations behind closed doors, but they all brought their calculators
Msnbc: How much does the Democratic Party have to worry about Democratic voters in Florida saying if they feel disenfranchised and their votes count for nothing, they’ll abandon the Democrats and vote for McCain?
Russert: Well, in 2000 it was Florida, Florida, Florida – I still have my little white board. And Michigan is a central piece to any kind of Democratic victory. Those states have to be looked after and nurtured and have their votes counted in some form is important. Whether the Democrats can get there or not, between now and June is still an open question.
Msnbc: Is there anything troubling bout the idea of private funding being used for this kind of election?
Russert: There is because, first of all, it’s illegal, as I mentioned, and they have to change the law. It is a government function – our precious right to vote.
The state of Florida and the state legislature particularly is saying, “We had a vote in January, and if the Democratic Party doesn’t want to count it, that’s its business. But why should the taxpayers fund another one?” This debate is going to go back and forth.
It’s important because Hillary Clinton needs these re-votes more than Barack Obama. If the delegates stay disqualified, Obama’s elected delegate count lead continues at about 160 and it’s very hard to see how Hillary Clinton can overcome that lead in the 10 remaining caucuses and primaries.
She needs to have new votes in Florida or Michigan or count the votes in which candidates did not participate in order to overcome Barack Obama’s lead.
Msnbc: Just in time for March Madness, you have a basketball-playing senator on Meet the Press Sunday?
Russert: Yes, he’s one of the greatest college and NBA players in the history of the sport – and he ran for president of the United States – the former Senator from New Jersey, Bill Bradley. He is supporting Barack Obama. And we have Nita Lowey, the congresswoman from Westchester, N.Y. She actually would have probably replaced Pat Moynihan in the Senate if Hillary Clinton had not run. She supports Hillary Clinton. They’ll square off. It’s Obama vs. Clinton – what a race!
In our political roundtable, it’s hard to imagine, but this week is the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. We’re going to talk about the war and what it has meant to America with The Washington Post's David Broder, NBC's David Gregory, and PBS's Michele Norris. All Sunday, on Meet the Press.