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Democrats face a badly divided party

NBC  News’ Washington bureau chief and host of "Meet the Press" discusses the problem the continuing campaign is causing for Democrats — one that could give John McCain the win this fall.
/ Source: NBC News

Msnbc: Tim, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean will be pushing uncommitted superdelegates to announce their choice for the Democratic nomination earlier this summer – no later than July 1st.

How bold is this move?

Russert:  The Democrats are very, very nervous.  They realize this back and forth between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is taking its toll.  John McCain is either tied or beating them in national polls, even though when you ask the generic question, “Who do you prefer this fall, the Democrat or the Republican?” the Democrat wins easily.  But when you match them head to head, it’s a tie race.

So, Howard Dean is now going to ask people, after the primaries are over, to make a decision – step forward and say, “This is who I, as an undecided superdelegate, have decided to support,” hopeful that he can then get a presumptive nominee by early June, start healing the party in July and August, and start Labor Day with a united front.

It’s going to be a very difficult challenge.

Msnbc: Almost unsaid in all of this is that it still seems very difficult for Sen. Clinton to be the ultimate nominee.  If you do the math and look at what’s ahead and the different kind of contests that are there, the math favors Sen. Obama.  But it’s like a team that comes back late in the game and puts up a great fight.  You wonder if the best team won.

Russert:  That’s exactly the case the Clinton campaign is making and will continue to make.  They cannot overtake Barack Obama with elected delegates.  He has won that.  Everyone assumed that would be the metric used to decide who would be the nominee.

What the Clinton campaign is trying to do is say, “Listen, he may have won that elected delegate contest, but you, as  superdelegate can take other things into consideration.  You’re a higher court. And if you, believe that I, Hillary Clinton, would be a tougher nominee against John McCain – can win the big battleground states you need to win the electoral college, then you have no obligation to abide by the elected delegate count.

The downside of this is, of course, if you go to a convention in Denver and the person who has the most elected delegates is denied the nomination, what do his delegates do?  What do African Americans do?  What do young voters do?  It could really create chaos in the Democratic Party and obviously be very helpful to the Republicans.

Msnbc: It’s still not clear what they’re going to do with Michigan and Florida.  Will they just leave that undecided and not do anything?

Russert:  Another big problem.  Here are two huge battleground states, where people in the state parties were told if they insisted on conducting early primaries, their delegates would not count. And that’s exactly what happened per the decision of Chairman Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee.

The concern is what signal does that send to Florida and Michigan residents come the fall election?

It’s a mess, there’s no doubt about it.  In a year when the Democrats thought they had a virtual lock on the presidency, the Republicans see more than a ray of hope.

Msnbc: Will the Clinton campaign succeed in having give weight to the cumulative popular vote argument?

Russert: The Obama campaign is saying, “Wait a minute.  We did this fair and square. If you’re trying to say the popular vote counts, then we wouldn’t have gone to Iowa, we wouldn’t have gone to New Hampshire. States that had caucuses would have had primaries, because you would get more voters out. So don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.  We went state by state by state.  We have won this nomination fair and square and if you try to take it from us it will be denying what the Democrats across the country, since January 3rd, have decided.”

Hillary Clinton responds, “That’s a nice argument to make.  Yes, you won the elected delegates, but the superdelegates - who we both need a portion of to be nominated – can use their independent judgment.

It’s amazing we are having this discussion in April of 2008.

Msnbc: Wouldn’t it be nice to have DNC Chairman Howard Dean to come on Meet the Press and answer some of these questions?

Russert:  That is our guest - Chairman of the Democratic Party Howard Dean. “Mr. Chairman. You’re here at Meet the Press. Settle it all.  What should the Democrats do and how are they going to do it?”  Sunday morning, at the Meet the Press table.