Robert Novak

But Michigan and Florida did not want to miss out on the election-year fun, rejecting the anonymity of the Feb. 5 mob scene. Defying DNC rules, Florida moved its primary to Jan. 29 and Michigan then went to Jan. 15, not specifying whether it would be a caucus or a primary. The early states responded that they would adjust their own dates to make certain that they voted first. The DNC imposed sanctions on the rebellious states: loss of their national convention delegates and prohibition of candidates from campaigning there. The word in Democratic political circles was that Florida and Michigan would get back their delegates before the convention and that nothing could stop presidential candidates from campaigning there.

But all Democratic candidates a week ago agreed to follow the DNC rules. Contending that early primary states "play a unique and special role in the nominating process," the Clinton campaign statement said "the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role." What the statement did not say is how much she actually welcomed Michigan and Florida breaking the rules.

Assume Clinton starts by losing Iowa and New Hampshire after more than a year of campaigning. That could be nullified by campaign-free Michigan, where a public poll gives Clinton a 19-percentage point lead over Obama. Assume Clinton also loses in heavily campaigned South Carolina. That could be nullified by campaign-free Florida, where polls show Clinton's lead as high as 30 percentage points.

What is Obama to do? He cannot set foot in Michigan or Florida before Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina vote, for fear of offending voters jealous of their prerogatives. Nor, his supporters believe, could he slip into Florida for a little campaigning during a gap between voting there and the South Carolina primary, because that would smack of desperation. Hillary Clinton truly has a gift from the politicians of Florida and Michigan.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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