Obama Campaign Lawyering Is Bad Politics

So the Obama campaign has unleashed its scary lawyer Bob Bauer to provide about 200 small reasons why a new Michigan primary might not be a good thing. This proves that the Obama campaign still can’t grasp the one big reason why they shouldn’t be fighting this: It’s bad politics.

By offering resistance, the Obama campaign is handing a juicy story to the media and a priceless issue to the Clinton campaign, which is now free to argue that Obama is (a) afraid of a fight; (b) trying to disenfranchise voters; and (c) endangering the party’s chance to carry a big state in the fall.

Not surprisingly, it took the Clinton press shop all of a few minutes to churn out a scathing counterattack to Bauer’s memo. Never mind that the Clinton memo, like others before it, is filled with hysterically misleading information and circular logic. (Example: “Nearly twice as many people voted in Michigan and Florida than in the first four states combined.” True enough, but that’s actually an indictment of the level of participation in Michigan and Florida, since their combined populations are nearly three times greater than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.)

By offering legalistic arguments against a re-vote, Obama is giving the Clinton campaign a leg to stand on. And the most illogical thing about is that a do-over in Michigan wouldn’t hurt Obama. Unlike Florida, where he’d almost certainly lose a re-vote lopsidedly, polls in Michigan have him running even with Hillary Clinton. A re-vote could actually be a boost for Obama, giving him the chance to post a win in a major industrial state just as the primary season ends – not a bad way to reassure uncommitted superdelgates. If he lost, the margin would be narrow and Clinton would only gain a handful of delegates. It’s even possible, because of his strength in Detroit and the Democrats’ delegate distribution guidelines, that Obama could lose the state by a few points to Clinton and still win more delegates.

After all of the scheduled primaries and caucuses are over, barring a spectacular shift, Obama will probably lead the pledged delegate race by about 125. He should also be ahead in the popular vote by about 500,000. His campaign’s apprehension about a re-vote in Florida is somewhat understandable, given his dim prospects there, both against Clinton and against McCain. A compromise in which Obama accepts the results of Janaury’s “outlaw” primary there in exchange for giving each delegate only a half-vote is probably good enough for him: It would only give Clinton a net gain of 19 delegates and Obama would be spared the headlines associated with a big loss.

But Michigan is a different story. The state’s Democrats have been more receptive to a re-vote than in Florida and Obama can argue that, since his name wasn’t on the Michigan ballot, a re-vote is more necessary there. Instead, his campaign is choosing an obscructionist option motivated by extreme caution. It is unbecoming, and it is a mistake. Obama Campaign Lawyering Is Bad Politics