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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, November 30, 2003

The conventions: interesting for once?

Kevin Phillips, writing in the LA Times makes two points, one silly, one scary.

When Democratic delegates head to Boston for their late July convention, they might not have an obvious nominee. This possibility flies in the face of the party's record of the last three decades. Each time, the leading contender who won the bulk of the primaries won the nomination — on the first ballot.

In 2004, if no candidate breaks away from the pack early and clearly, Balkanization could set in, because too many convention delegates might be selected too quickly. By mid-March, with two-thirds of the delegates already chosen, you could have an incipient stalemate, with Howard Dean holding 28% of them, Dick Gephardt 22%, John Kerry 16%, Wesley Clark 12%, John Edwards 8%, Joe Lieberman 7% and Al Sharpton 5%.

Historically, this would augur ill for the Democrats. Since World War I, they have lost all four elections in which they chose a dark-horse compromise candidate after embarrassingly long bickering (more than 40 ballots in 1920, more than 100 in 1924) or later picked a nominee who had not run in the early primaries (Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Hubert Humphrey in 1968). At first blush, doing so again in 2004 would look dumb.

However, should Dean or someone else lead with a delegate count below or around 30% through March, that probably wouldn't be enough to command the nomination. To win, the early leader would have to politick heavily enough and persuasively enough in the spring to gather 38% to 40% of the delegates by May or June.

Hence, the wisdom of Dean and Kerry to forgo the public financing system for the primary period. Either would need more money than the system would allow to stay in high gear during April and May. Reaching 40% of the delegate count without that extra money might be impossible.

This kind of talk happens every year and is the wet dream of reporters. In reality, Dean or Clark should come into the convention with enough delegates to win, because of two things: one, the supporters switch horses. People who were supporting Edwards or Gephardt, will back away from them as they lose more and more. Because they want to be on the winning team, they will come to back the winner. The idea of a split convention is unlikely. Then the super delegates also make this impossible. Unless an accident happens, it should be clear by the end of March who is going to win. I'd say the momentum is with Dean, but Clark could overcome that, especially in the South. And the super delegates would be pressured by their state delegates to follow their lead. So while possible, it's unlikely that it will happen.

I don't see Gephardt having the money or support to win the states he needs to. Dean's money offensive makes it really hard, as did getting both the AFSCME and SEIU support. SEIU, having minority members, is a very good get for Dean, and those two unions denied the AFL-CIO endorsement for Gephardt in all practical terms. It's more than likely that Dean will get the full endorsement if he has a good Super Tuesday.

The Republican primary race, by contrast, will not be a race but a coronation. There will be no excitement, no drama. Yet, drama aplenty will start to swell in late August as GOP delegates arrive in Manhattan — accompanied, perhaps, by thousands from the FBI and military intelligence, as well as conceivably more Army Rangers and National Guard soldiers taking up stations to protect the president.

In 2002, the idea of again draping the mantle of 9/11 around Bush at a 2004 nomination convention just a few miles from "ground zero" must have seemed highly opportune to GOP strategists. But many months and embarrassments later, the United States is heading toward 2004 with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein apparently alive and uncaptured, perhaps watching eagerly as the U.S. positions in Iraq and Afghanistan deteriorate and terrorism rebounds on a wave of Islamic hostility toward Bush and the U.S. presence on Iraqi soil. Almost unbelievably, the White House has dissipated the wave of global sympathy for the United States after 9/11 and replaced it with a sullen hostility that reaches beyond Islam into much of Europe, East Asia and Latin America.

But there are other reasons why this could make New York City an anxious place next September. The city has a Muslim population estimated at more than half a million and, according to the Arab American Institute, some 200,000 Arabs, the vast majority of them citizens. Another 150,000 Arabs live in adjacent northeastern New Jersey.

Brooklyn, less than a mile from Manhattan, has the biggest concentrations of Muslims in the city. Many of its Islamic neighborhoods became familiar to FBI agents after 9/11. Given the general animosity worldwide toward Bush's policies, it seems quite possible that the authorities, looking to head off acts of terrorism, could antagonize a huge swath of Islamic New York.

One can easily imagine that the FBI and the military will feel they must take extraordinary precautions for the GOP convention. New York City has 130 mosques and dozens of Arab neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. The Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Queens houses North America's largest Shiite Muslim congregation. In the face of the inevitable crackdown, it's quite conceivable the GOP convention could serve as a magnet for terrorists itching to prove the U.S. president's ineffectiveness.

The problem with this is that much of this would involve litigation. Any massive security operation would face fairly strong political opposition from the city's politicians. The problem is that Bloomberg is not a fighter. He's basically tried to backroom deal everything with New York's enemies and quietly resolve conflict. Which can work in some circumstances, but with the massive protests guaranteed for the convention, it will make London a walk in the park.

Phillips concern for the Muslim community is overwrought, many of them having escaped the tyranny of their countries and have zero ties to Al Qaeda.

He also forgets that the Muslim population of New York is not only not monolithic but mostly West African. People who have little interest in Osama Bin Laden. Such an overwheming military presence is not going to be accepted lightly. And God forbid one of those Rangers or Guardsmen caps some kid, all hell would break loose. Bloomberg is coming to realize that doing a good job isn't enough to be reelected. Mayors who don't fight, lose. If Bloomberg sits by and lets martial law happen without objecting strongly, his political career will be over. If he trusts Bush to do the right thing, well, he's going to be disappointed.

posted by Steve @ 1:25:00 PM

1:25:00 PM

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