Tennesseean pushes plan to avoid brokered convention

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is actively promoting a plan that he says would prevent a brokered Democratic convention, a situation he believes would pave the way for a Republican to maintain control of the White House.

The second-term governor has proposed a “superdelegate primary” in which the 795 superdelegates who will likely decide their party’s nominee would meet to cast votes. The result would hopefully help the party avoid a contentious, brokered convention and allow a divided party to start the healing process before Labor Day, Bredesen said.

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In an interview with The Hill on Monday in Washington, where Bredesen was pushing his novel idea, he acknowledged the reception from both campaigns and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been lukewarm. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) campaign said Monday that they respect Bredesen, but there are still contests remaining and the process should be allowed to play out.

But in talks with other governors and superdelegates outside Washington, Bredesen suggests his plan is getting stronger reviews. He said he has heard growing concerns in these conversations about a need to find a way to pick a nominee before the summer convention in August.

“It generally breaks down to inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway,” Bredesen said.

Bredesen’s plan would bring the superdelegates together for a special primary after the last nominating contests on June 3. Their votes would provide enough support for either Clinton or Obama to be declared the Democratic nominee and avoid a brokered convention.

Bredesen said Democrats need to admit that they have a real problem, since “wishing it away” won’t get them any closer to a solution. He said he hopes that his proposal will provoke other Democrats and the DNC to start thinking of other solutions.

More than 40 percent of the 795 superdelegates are still uncommitted, including Bredesen, who through the years has come to be regarded by his political allies and foes alike as a pragmatic, problem-solving politician.

The governor said the DNC needs to get the entire slate in a room, let them vote and find a way to put a candidate in the field to challenge presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is enjoying a large window in which to raise money and build his general election campaign.

Bredesen, who also serves as policy director for the Democratic Governors Association, said Democrats he talked to earlier in the year were fond of both candidates, but hopeful the one they were backing would prevail.

“That has demonstrably changed over the last 90 days,” he said.

Bredesen said the campaigns have devolved into negative attack modes, and a fractured party has become a very real possibility.

He said he doubts one candidate will recognize the futility of continuing the fight and bow to the pressure of one or several party leaders.

{mospagebreak}“I’m a practitioner of politics, and that would not be remotely effective with me,” he said. He sees no one “who has got the clout” to convince either candidate to drop from the race just by twisting their arm.

Bredesen, who in 2004 was often mentioned as a possible running mate to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), floated his proposal in an op-ed to The New York Times last week.

“This is not a proposal for a mini-convention with all the attendant hoopla and sideshows,” wrote Bredesen. “It is a call for a tight, two-day business-like gathering, whose rules would be devised by the national committee, of the leaders of our party from all over America to resolve a serious problem. There would be a final opportunity for the candidates to make their arguments to these delegates, and then one transparent vote.”

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The governor conceded that the results of a “messy” superdelegate primary might result in a fractured party. But he said it’s better for that to happen in June than near Labor Day, when a short calendar would leave little time for the eventual nominee to heal the division.

McCain, Bredesen said, faces a similar problem in bringing his party together, but has more time to do it while his rivals spend the next few months telling voters that the other is unelectable.

“He [has] got a similar problem to what we’re going to have except he [has] got it in March,” Bredesen said.

While in Washington, the governor was joined by Democratic strategist Tad Devine on a radio show to discuss his proposal. Devine told The Hill that he was initially skeptical, but as they discussed it, he began to view Bredesen’s plan as a good idea.

“It’s easy to see the downside of it,” Devine said. “[But Bredesen] represents the viewpoint of a lot of people out there, a lot of superdelegates.”

Devine said Bredesen is doing what other party leaders — outside of the campaigns — should be doing on this issue and other areas, like the dispute over Florida and Michigan, areas where there’s a “need for a resolution as opposed to an impasse.”

“I think what he’s doing is very productive,” Devine said. “I think he’s showing … leadership.”

Devine said he agrees with Bredesen that Democrats will be better served if they can decide on a nominee before August.

“Right now we’ve got a circular firing squad on our side,” Devine said. “If we move that circle to a line and start firing at the other side, we’ll be in much better shape.”

Bredesen said Monday that his next step is to start calling superdelegates to gauge their interest in his plan.

He said he will keep pushing his proposal “as long as it [has] got some legs.”