The Jockeying Behind The Four States Pledge

On Friday, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina asked all the Democratic presidential candidates to follow the rules set out by the Democratic Naitonal Committee and committ not to campaign in states that violate those rules. By Saturday morning, every candidate but Hillary Clinton had signed.

This afternoon, her manager, Patti Solis Doyle, issued a short statement:

"We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process. And we believe the DNC’s rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role.Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC approved nominating calendar."

So -- Clinton signs the pledge. That's a surprise. Clinton's advisers yesterday were telegraphing their intention not to sign....

What happened? Here's the Clinton campaign's evolving rationale: Clinton leads in Florida and Michigan right now. All other things being equal, she'll probably lead in those states in January. She can "compete" by not competing. That's an advatange of being the frontrunner. Also, thanks in part to the campaign's mid-May Iowa reset after the Mike Henry Iowa memo, Clinton's strategists believe they can win Iowa and do not want to jeopardize the good will she built up with party leaders there.

Barack Obama's manager, David Plouffe, explains his campaign's decision:

“To become the Democratic nominee for president, a candidate must secure a majority of delegates to the national convention. Because states that violate DNC rules will not be allowed to contribute to the delegate tally, we urge all states to ensure their compliance with DNC rules so they can participate in our Democratic nominating process. Our campaign will work within the rules established by the DNC to earn the support of Democrats across America and run a grassroots campaign to unite Americans around Senator Obama’s commitment to challenging the conventional thinking in Washington.”

Right now, Florida is the only state judged to be in violation of the DNC's laws. The pledge asks candidates not to campaign there but includes an exception for fundraising. Michigan's Democrats decided Friday to resubmit their delegate selection plan to the DNC, changing their approved Feb.9 caucus to a disapproved Jan. 15 primary. The DNC will probably take all of Michigan's delegates away.

Put yourself in David Plouffe's mind. True, Florida and Michigan will have their delegates restored at the convention. But in January, when delegate accumulation matters, they'll have none. Should Obama spend more of his money to compete in two states which won't reward him delegates, or should he spend considerably less money explaining to voters in Florida and Michigan why he's not campaigning there?

What no one really knows is how the press will cover, first, the Michigan primary on the 15th and second, the Florida primary on the 29th. If every candidate pledges not to participate, then a Clinton victory will be expected.

But here's something to consider: the Republican National Committee's rules allow it to take away only half of the delegates. So Florida and Michigan will be covered by the press as real contests for the Republicans. That makes it more likely that Clinton's victory in those states will be known -- and while the press will certainly apply the no-delegate caveat, it's going to be tough for them not to spread the word that the majority of Democratic voters in those populous states chose Hillary Clinton.

That's one reason why Clinton's campaign probably hesitated before signing the pledge.

The other is that Clinton's strategists disagree with the DNC about Florida's viability in the general election. Clinton's team believes she can win there; the DNC is more skeptical that Democrats can recover. Clinton doesn't want to give Republicans a heads-up there.

Here's a question to consider: will Clinton find ways to visit Florida without campaigning? Will her campaign find ways to make sure she stays high in the polls there? Since Barack Obama patented the technique of charging $5 entrance fees for fundraisers; could Clinton hold large fundraisers

BTW: Gov. Jennifer Granholm issued a statement this a.m.:

"We expect that all of the Democratic candidates for President will be on the ballot in Michigan on January 15th. We hope that every candidate will campaign here."