On the surface it all seems nice for the April 17 Michigan Democratic Party Endorsement Convention and the Jefferson-Jack Dinner. Supporters and loyalists are being told to come together and be fired up at Cobo Hall to take on the Republican candidates in the November general election in an unfavorable season for Democrats.
But what the public is not being told is that there is a major problem looming beyond the all- of-a-sudden April 17 endorsement event.
Instead of the typical August nomination convention where delegates get to pick their candidates and then get blessed by party bosses and their financial backers, the high priests of the Michigan Democratic Party are at it again: Do a quick endorsement of their favorite “status quo” candidates and then pound the pavement for votes and raise money with the hope of winning.
We saw this happen during the 2008 presidential campaign where many believe that the push for an early primary under the guise of giving Michigan national attention was, in fact, an underhanded effort to hand over the state to Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. The consequence of that was a massive confusion on the part of voters who had little or no clear information coming forth from the party leaders. But leaders in Detroit who were in the Obama camp smelled the coffee, got out and campaigned strongly for Obama. Detroit sent a powerful message by voting overwhelmingly for Obama.
This time around, the logic of making an early endorsement, critics say, is fraught with dire consequences because competent candidates who get knocked out after April 17 could hold back with their supporters.
The grievance from the seemingly unfair selection process could mean dividing the Democratic vote, the last thing the party needs when it has to convince the state for another four years of a Democratic administration.
I’ve gotten calls from supporters of various candidates who are strongly protesting that the endorsement convention masking as a kumbaya festival is nothing short of a ploy to rubber stamp the democratic process of giving voters ample opportunity to assess the candidates.
This early in the campaign, the excuse of endorsing some chosen candidates without having them go through the fire of debates and articulation of the issues they are fighting for does not make sense.
One would expect the party that brags about intrinsic democratic values, and the need for all voices to be heard, to yield to that very notion they claim to uphold and the sacred tenets of democracy.
What the Democrats don’t need is to be seen as alienating their core base, whether its African American voters or voters of any kind. Even the talk of an African-American lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket brewing in the political talk shops is not seen as a serious consideration in the corridors of power for a party that has long used and misused the Black vote to its own advantage. And if the endorsement gathering reveals that favoritism factored more than competence and knowledge of the issues facing Michigan, it spells trouble for the party.
For example, the fast talking Lansing mayor Virg Bernero has been able to secure the support of the influential AFL-CIO whose membership spans across some 50 union groups while House Speaker Andy Dillon is getting the support of other labor groups. Dillon, who has been projected as being not too friendly with labor because of a public health overhaul he was proposing in Lansing, is in a tough battle with Bernero for the party endorsement.
Even though Bernero told me some time ago that he will not run as an independent if he does not win the nomination, that still does not unite the party should Dillon become the flagbearer. State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith is also in the running for governor as the lone African-American candidate.
Voters in Detroit and across the state would appreciate seeing Dillon, Bernero and Smith before a lectern sternly debating the issues and what they plan to do to turn Michigan around.
But to squander such unique opportunity of seeing the candidates on the campaign trail aggressively explaining and defending their positions in favor of a rushed convention is ridiculous.
But evidently we’ve been here before, watching the movie about how loyal supporters can be during the Hillary Clinton campaign. After Super Tuesday, some diehard supporters of the former New York senator stuck to their guns and would not support Obama.
Despite their loud protests, Obama’s legitimate triumph came in part because the Republican Party was in the tank after the eight years of a dismal George W. Bush presidency distastefully sandwiched between two wars. It was less difficult to convince everyone, including the National Organization of Women (NOW) whose leaders were supporting Clinton, that the big picture was overthrowing the Republicans from power to avoid a repeat of eights years of Bush, instead of power strife between two candidates and their supporters.
But this year Democrats in Michigan do not have the kind of luxury the Obama campaign had by tying his opponent Republican Sen. John McCain and the incompetent and mediocrity-basking Sarah Palin to President Bush. The fact is that a Democratic administration led by Gov. Jennifer Granholm presided over the economic woes of Michigan. While it is plausible to explain how the Bush presidency affected the state, it is equally deserving to ask whether Granholm’s initiatives during that period worked for Michigan. And that is what Republican candidates will be selling to voters.
This is why Democrats cannot afford any kind of insurgency and fallujah-type activities within the party that divides votes and loyalties in a tough election season because it only gives the Republicans more ammunition to take them head-on in November.