Politics & Government

Democrats derail bid by Clinton backers to ban caucuses

PITTSBURGH — Devoted Hillary Clinton supporters urged the Democratic Party Saturday to end caucuses, the town hall meetings in states like Iowa where Clinton's presidential campaign first stumbled and Barack Obama launched his march to the nomination.

They didn't prevail — the Democratic National Committee's platform committee Saturday ruled that such an idea doesn't belong in the party platform. But their complaint about the caucuses as unfair could be the start of a long-term quest to change the way the Democrats pick their presidential nominees.

"We need to get rid of caucuses," said Melissa Whitener, a waitress from Conneaut, Pa., who traveled to lobby the Democratic National Committee as it prepared its party platform.

"Caucuses are inherently unfair," she said. "I work in a restaurant. I can't take off a whole shift to go sit in a caucus. We need to all be on the same primary system. Why should 2,000 people in Iowa have the same say as 2 million in Pennsylvania."

Bob Remer, a Clinton delegate from Illinois, introduced the platform amendment urging an end to caucuses.

"Caucuses undermine ...core Democratic values," his amendment said. "Caucuses inherently disenfranchise the elderly, disabled, shift workers, single parents, and others whose circumstance prohibits participation in caucuses."

He also said that caucuses "allow party officials, spouses, employers or other aggressive participants to exert undue influence and coercion over voters." Many analysts have said that caucus attendees face public pressures to vote certain ways because they must stand up in front of their neighbors to state their support for a candidate.

But the committee ruled the amendment out of order and referred it to the party's Rules Committee, where its fate is at best uncertain.

Judith McHale, a top Clinton supporter from Maryland and co-chairwoman of the platform committee, agreed that the ban on caucuses did not belong in the platform, the party's statement of principles on issues such as Iraq, health care and taxes.

But she agreed that the caucuses exclude people who cannot get away and suggested the case isn't closed. "Some effort has to be made to address it," she said.

Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota, said caucuses are far different from primary elections because they require voters to show up in person for several hours on one evening.

The result, he said, is that they draw fewer voters than primaries, are unrepresentative of the broader party in a state, and are elitist. "It's time to eliminate caucuses from the presidential nomination process," he said recently.

Such complaints have simmered in the past, but came to the surface this year in the long, close contest between Clinton and Barack Obama. He organized better for the caucus meetings and won more of them.

The draft party platform did acknowledge Clinton's successes and includes a veiled suggestion that she was treated unfairly.

"Our party is proud that we have put 18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling," it added, a bow to the total of votes Clinton received in the caucuses and primaries.

It also said, "...We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all."

Clinton supporter Gloria Novotny of Wilson, Pa., called it needed recognition. "They did a really bad thing to her. The bias against her was so bad," she said.

She cited demeaning items such as a Hillary Clinton nutcracker and e-mails that used profanities to refer to her.

"The bias was so bad," Novotny said. "This is not the way they'd talk about their wife or mother or daughter."

Having approved the platform, the committee sent it to the Democratic National Convention for a final OK later this month.

For more on the Democratic Party, www.democrats.org

For more on the Democratic National Convention, http://www.demconvention.com