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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton desperately wants meaningless wins in Florida and Michigan to turn into votes she can count on. It won’t be easy with the Democratic National Committee rules standing in her way.
The DNC is refusing to back down from the tough sanctions it imposed on the two states, which held early contests in violation of party rules. They have been stripped of all their delegates to the national convention in August where either Clinton or rival Barack Obama will be nominated for president.
The DNC has offered Florida and Michigan a couple ways out in compliance with party rules. First, they could hold second nominating contests, but Democratic leaders in both states reject that idea. Or they can appeal to the DNC’s credentials committee, a 186-member body that usually operates in obscurity and has a complicated membership and rules process that will require deft maneuvering in this divided campaign.
Just like the some-800 superdelegates, this committee could hold the cards in helping decide the Democratic nominee if the race stays close.
Clinton’s campaign insists the delegates should be seated in accordance with more than 2 million votes cast in the two states last month.
“I think that the people of Michigan and Florida spoke in a very convincing way, that they want their voices and their votes to be heard,” Clinton told reporters. “The turnout in both places was record-breaking and I think that that should be respected.”
Clinton did not object to the DNC stripping the states of their delegates when the decision was made last year. Some of her backers were on the committee that made the decision to do so and actively supported it.
“Now, when they believe it serves their political interests, they’re trying to rewrite the rules,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a call with reporters.
As of Thursday, the delegate count stood at 1,276 for Obama and 1,220 for Clinton. If the DNC were to award Michigan and Florida’s 313 delegates based on the vote in their primaries, she would be ahead because she won both states.
That would be unfair, Obama’s campaign says, because the candidates had promised not to compete in those renegade states.
Clinton’s operatives want DNC chairman Howard Dean to come up with a resolution, but Dean is staying out of the fight for now. Dean spokesman Karen Finney said Florida and Michigan still have a choice to follow the rules.
“At this point, there are still more than 1,000 pledged delegates to be determined and 33 percent of our party has yet to have the opportunity to have their voices heard, so it would be premature to speculate,” Finney said. Dean declined an interview request.
Most of the credentials committee members will be appointed by the Clinton and Obama campaigns, depending on how they perform in nominating contests across the country, with Dean having already named 25. Although Obama has won more contests so far, Clinton has won most of the larger states — and larger states get more seats. So there’s the potential for the committee to be closely divided if the race stays tight.
The credential committee would meet in July or August, and its decision would be in the form of a recommendation to all the delegates at the convention. They have a range of options to consider, including recommending reinstatement of all or some of the delegates divided any way they see fit between Obama and Clinton. The recommendation would become the first order of business at the convention on Aug. 25.
One Clinton adviser, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said there are no legal options to pursue in courts, which give parties wide latitude in crafting their rules.
The Clinton adviser suggested a compromise where perhaps the Michigan delegates could be split evenly among the two since Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot there. But the Florida delegates should be bound by the primary results, the adviser argued, because Obama’s name was on the ballot in that case. The Illinois senator didn’t have the option of removing it like he did in Michigan.
That’s a compromise that the Obama campaign would be unlikely to accept without a fight. And Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has been leading the fight to get his state’s delegates reinstated and is backing Clinton, said he doesn’t think it will matter. He suggested he would just like to see the delegates seated, even if they aren’t favoring Clinton.
He said he is encouraging the DNC to at least declare that the Florida delegates will be seated regardless of who they are awarded to so at least they can make their travel plans to go to Denver.
“The likelihood is one way or another we’re going to know the nominee by late June at the latest, in which case it will be then moot about who the delegation is pledged to and all of that,” Nelson said.
Michigan and Florida had moved up their dates to gain prominence in the presidential selection process, but ironically they would be more relevant if they would have stayed put. Florida was originally scheduled to vote March 4 and Michigan on March 9, and both would no doubt have been pivotal in the hotly contested race between Clinton and Obama.
Associated Press writers Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., and Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.