Monday 24 March 2008
Kansas City, Missouri - Democrats, looking for a way out, are pondering a new idea: an unprecedented "mini convention" to bring their punishing presidential season to an early close.
The proposal surfaced during another week of pushing and shoving between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns and a growing concern that the party may be hurting itself beyond repair.
Without some resolution, they fret, Republican John McCain will win the presidency.
"If we continue down the path we are on, we might as well hand the keys of the White House to John McCain," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
The mini-convention would bring together nearly 800 superdelegates after the last primaries are held in early June.
Given the current math, superdelegates - party officials and elected leaders - will decide the nomination, one way or another.
"There would be a final opportunity for the candidates to make their arguments to these delegates, and then one transparent vote," Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen suggested in the New York Times.
Superdelegates, both pledged and unpledged, reacted cautiously to the idea. But they all agreed that something needed to be done to bridge the growing gap between Clinton and Obama supporters.
"We've got to stop the bickering that's going on," said Leila Medley of Jefferson City, Mo., an uncommitted superdelegate. "There's no doubt about that."
"While you trade barbs, McCain is uniting the Republican Party," U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon wrote both campaigns in mid-March. "In the next six weeks, McCain can sit back, amass his war chest, concentrate his base and delight as you deconstruct each other."
That outcome seemed unthinkable just weeks ago, when record voter turnouts, the ongoing Iraq war, a slumping economy and a fat bank account convinced many Democrats they had a clear path to the presidency.
But new polls tell a different story: Some last week showed McCain beating Obama and Clinton, after he trailed both candidates just two weeks ago.
A focus on race and gender hasn't helped. Neither did more name-calling after Florida's Democrats, then Michigan's, failed to reach agreement on a plan to seat their disputed delegates.
And the party still hasn't figured out how its superdelegates should vote - as independent agents or as a reflection of the popular vote.
"It seems to me if we have a nominee come Labor Day with a very deeply divided party and morally exhausted party, I think we have a problem," Bredesen said.
He promised any superdelegate gathering would be "tight" and "businesslike," helping the party avoid "brutal and unnecessary warfare" this summer.
Obama called it "interesting." Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Charles Schumer of New York said the idea might have merit. Clinton, Bredesen said, did not reject the idea.
But several rank-and-file superdelegates in Kansas and Missouri called the trial balloon a lot of hot air.
"I'm sure there are a number of us who would get beat up behind closed doors," Medley said. "I think what we need to do is get the two of them in a room."