Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'Uncommitted' is a vote for Obama, in Michigan primary

(cross posted at Michigan Messenger)

Voting "uncommitted" is as close as Sen. Barack Obama's Michigan supporters can get to casting a vote for their man in the state's Jan. 15 primary.

As excitement builds for Obama in New Hampshire's primary, his Michigan supporters hope Michigan voters will be savvy enough to vote "uncommitted" in the state's misfit Democratic primary.

"I'm doing a lot of extra work to make sure everyone in Michigan that wants to support Sen. Obama knows they must vote 'uncommitted,' " said U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "Voters can't write in his name because that will be considered a spoiled ballot."

"No matter who you are supporting there is a spot on the ballot you need to check off," said state Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Dist. 5, who endorsed Obama more than 10 months ago. He speculates that an "uncommitted" vote of 15 percent would be a setback for Sen. Hillary Clinton, the only front-runner on the Michigan Democratic primary ballot.

Johnson thinks the uncommitted votes will ultimately translate into delegates at the Democratic nominating convention, even though the Democratic National Committee has officially withdrawn Michigan's delegates. "We have way too many powerhouses in Washington to stand by and let Michigan go unrepresented at the national convention," he said, listing Conyers and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Kilpatrick, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says she is waiting to endorse a candidate until after the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Jan. 21. Regarding the Michigan primary, she said, "It is confusing to say the least. I'm an elected official and I have to explain it everywhere I go. It is unfortunate for the state and for the candidates."

Conyers finds the situation exasperating. "It's insane when we are trying to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, if what we do is make it weirdly complicated, so that for lot of people it is discouraging." He says constituents have been calling his office suspicious of how the election is being run.

Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden removed their names from Michigan's ballot in response to Michigan's decision for a Jan. 15 primary. The early date breaks Democratic National Committee rules. In addition, all candidates agreed not to campaign in Michigan prior to the primary. Clinton argued that she need not remove her name from the ballot, only refrain from active campaigning to be in line with national party rules.

Even so, Obama's Iowa victory encourages Michigan supporters. "I listened to his speech and I wondered is this what Dr. Martin Luther King talked about being judged on the content of their character not the color of their skin," said Johnson.

Political veteran Conyers envisions Obama gaining momentum after a New Hampshire victory. "The general consensus is he's likely to win and if he does this is going to give him a real big bounce as he goes into South Carolina," Conyers said.