Friday Focus: Democratic Caucuses 2004

BY DAVID BRANSON AND JAMEEL NAQVI
Daily Staff Reporters
Published February 6, 2004

Once of debatable importance, the strategically placed Michigan
caucuses are shaping up to be a critical contest for the six
remaining candidates vying for the Democratic presidential
nomination.

Laura Wong

At stake tomorrow are Michigan’s 153 delegates, more than
have been offered in any contest thus far.

The polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Some
University students and faculty members can vote at the Michigan
Union. Voters do not have to be registered in Michigan but they
must declare themselves Democrats at the time of voting and be
registered and 18 years of age by the November elections.

The University community can also vote via traditional mail or
online. Absentee ballots must be received by the Michigan
Democratic Party in Lansing by 10 a.m. tomorrow and online voting
ends at 4 p.m. Voters who choose to not vote in person must have
submitted an application to vote online or by mail to the MDP by
Jan. 31.

Michigan’s delegates are apportioned to candidates
according to the percentage of caucus votes they receive. Michigan
also contributes 23 super-delegates of its 153, consisting of Gov.
Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s eight U.S. congressmen, and 14
Democratic National Committee members from the Michigan Democratic
Party. These unpledged delegates are not obligated to vote for a
particular candidate but may vote for any candidate at the
Democratic National Convention. Unlike pledged delegates, who have
alternates who can vote in their place, super-delegates will not be
replaced if for any reason they are unable to attend the nominating
convention.

Gregory Markus, political science professor and senior research
scientist at the University’s Institute for Social Research,
said young voters have enormous potential to influence the
political process.

“Early results from the 2004 primaries suggest much
stronger participation by younger voters than in the recent
past,” Markus said. “For example, the 2004 Iowa
caucuses showed a four-fold jump in Democratic participants under
the age of 30 as compared with four years ago.”

Markus also noted the enthusiasm of University students for
politics. “One-time “Rock The Vote” events
don’t make a difference,” he said, referring to a youth
get-out-the-vote drive. “What matters is networking and
regular involvement with people you know. Campus organizations can
be very effective at this if they decide to do it.”

The caucuses this year are held almost a month sooner than their
traditional date following “Super Tuesday” in March,
when 12 states will hold caucuses and primaries. Usually by this
time the bulk of delegates has been assigned and the non-incumbent
political party has endorsed a candidate. After the party selects
its nominee, the remaining candidates cannot compete against their
own party and are forced to drop out or run as independents.

Since this year’s caucuses fall relatively early in the
primary season, they are significantly more important than in the
past. A victory in Michigan will distance any candidate from the
others in the delegate count. The largest primary of this election
year to date was held in Missouri, which offers half as many
delegates as Michigan.

Currently, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is one of the few
candidates campaigning in Michigan, and he leads in the most recent
Detroit News poll with a commanding 56 percent. The next closest
candidate is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at 12 percent, while
18 percent of those surveyed said they are still undecided.

Even though he holds a large lead, Kerry downplays the
significance of polls. But they have been accurate in predicting
Kerry’s victories in states like New Hampshire where he
dominated opinion polls the week before.

“(The outcome) really isn’t decided because the
caucuses are so much earlier this year,” said Mark Brewer,
executive chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. “And
we’ve had 123,000 (ballot requests for) online or mail, and
that’s already more than (voters who) participated in the
2000 caucuses.”

Historically, Michiganders have typically not chosen the
candidate who in the end receives the presidential nomination.
Voters opted for Sen. John McCain in the 2000 Republican caucuses,
but McCain lost the nomination to George W. Bush.

Voters also picked the underdog in 1988, overwhelmingly
preferring the Rev. Jesse Jackson to eventual presidential nominee
Michael Dukakis by a two - one margin.

Perhaps the most historic example of Michigan running against
the grain came in 1972, when voters chose avowed segregationist
Alabama Gov. George Wallace over George McGovern. the eventual
nominee.

Even though Michigan has a history of voting for candidates who
were not in the lead, Kerry’s rivals have seemingly abandoned
Michigan.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark cancelled his plans to visit Michigan
in favor of directly challenging Sen. John Edwards of North
Carolina in the South.

“With Edwards spending time in Tennessee and Virginia, and
our close victory in Oklahoma … we wanted to come to
Michigan and address issues but it came down to there’s so
little time,” said Jonathan Beeton, spokesman for Clark in
Michigan. “It was an evaluation and regrettably we
couldn’t come.”

Dean similarly cut his Michigan campaign short, even after a
visit to Detroit Wednesday night. He was scheduled to hold a rally
at the Michigan League this morning at 10:30, but shifted gears to
his Wisconsin campaign.

“Basically he’s headed to Wisconsin, that’s
where we’ve decided to put down the marker,” said
Christy Setzer, communications director for Dean in Michigan.
“We don’t think we’re going to win (in
Michingan), but we do hope to at least remain viable and make a
strong delegate showing.”

Dean’s campaign officials said if he does not win in
Wisconsin, he will drop out of the race for the presidency.

The Rev. Al Sharpton also visited Michigan Wednesday night and
held a rally at Eastern Michigan University. He campaigned for most
of yesterday in the metropolitan Detroit area in hopes of drawing
support from Detroit’s black population.

On the campaign trail, Kerry leads the delegate count with 260
delegates out of the 577 pledged thus far. Anointed the early
favorite when the race began one year ago, Kerry had, until the
Iowa caucuses, been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of outsider
Howard Dean. The senator has since recaptured his momentum,
finishing in first place in all but two states so far. Kerry
recently snagged the coveted endorsements of Granholm, Lt. Gov.
John Cherry and former Gov. James Blanchard. He added the 1.3
million member American Federation of Teachers to his list of union
endorsements Wednesday. The Associated Press also reported Rep.
Dick Gephardt of Missouri endorsed Kerry last night. Edwards
finished a solid first place in South Carolina last Tuesday, his
first victory after a surprise second-place finish in Iowa. Clark
claimed a victory in Oklahoma, where he and Edwards each finished
with 30 percent of the vote and Kerry posted a close third place
win. Sharpton enjoyed a relative victory in South Carolina
finishing ahead of Dean and Clark, a Southern native.

Dean, once the leader of the pack, has yet to pull off a first -
place finish. Dean picked up endorsements from several former
Michigan congressmen and current state congressmen. Dean’s
frontrunner status, retained by the former Vermont Governor as late
as one week before the Iowa caucuses, led to a bevy of high-profile
endorsements that added to his unpledged delegate count. But these
politicians can change their allegiances at any time.

Also holding caucuses this weekend are Washington and Maine.

But for the first time in Michigan, voters can uniquely affect
the outcome of the race that culminates in the selection of the man
who will go head to head with Bush in November.

 

Click "http://www.michigandaily.com/pages/pdf/2004-02-06ffocus.pdf">here
to view the pdf version of this Friday Focus (requires Acrobat
Reader).