Officials in Michigan and Florida are showing renewed interest in holding repeat presidential nominating contests so that their votes will count in the epic Democratic campaign.
The Michigan governor, along with top officials in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and Florida’s state party chair, are now saying they would consider holding a sort of do-over contest by June. That’s a change from their previous insistence that the primaries their states held in January should determine how the their delegates are allocated.
Clinton won both contests, but the results were meaningless because the elections violated national party rules.
The Democratic National Committee stripped both states of all their delegates for holding the primaries too early, and all Democratic candidates — including Clinton and rival Barack Obama — agreed not to campaign in either state. Obama’s name wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot.
Florida and Michigan moved up their dates to protest the party’s decision to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to go first, followed by South Carolina and Nevada, giving them a disproportionate influence on the presidential selection process.
But no one predicted the race would still be very close this late in the year.
Ironically, Michigan and Florida could have held crucial primaries if they had stayed with their traditional later dates. They may yet do so if they decide to hold new contests as Clinton and Obama compete to the wire.
Clinton has been insisting that the desires of more than 2 million people who cast Democratic ballots in the two states should be reflected at the convention, which would help her catch up to Obama in the race for convention delegates. Obama has said he wants to see the delegates from the two critical swing states participate, too, but not if Clinton is rewarded for victories in boycotted primaries.
Now the Clinton campaign has begun expressing openness to a do-over. “Let’s let all of the voters go again if they are willing to do it,” Clinton adviser Terry McAuliffe said Tuesday night on MSNBC. “Whatever we have to do to get people in the system, let’s do it.”
The new contests could be part of a strategy for Clinton to come back in the race and attract votes from superdelegates who are not bound by any primary or caucus votes, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told the network. “Let’s assume for the moment Hillary Clinton wins Ohio and Texas, she wins Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan have primaries in June, she wins both of those,” said Rendell, who has endorsed Clinton. “Then, can the superdelegates look at that and say, `Gosh, she’s won the last five big primaries in a row. She’s won almost every big primary since we began.'”
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Clinton supporter, told the Detroit Free Press that Clinton’s victory in Ohio changes “the landscape a bit.” She said it could open the door to a caucus, if it can be privately funded and both candidates agree.
Granholm, a Democrat, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, issued a joint statement Wednesday demanding that their states’ delegates be seated. “We each will call upon our respective state and national party chairs to resolve this matter and to ensure that the voters of Michigan and Florida are full participants in the formal selection of their parties’ nominees,” the statement said.
Crist told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that he does not support having another primary at taxpayer expense. He said he discussed the option with Sen. Bill Nelson, the state’s senior Democrat. “He said the only way to consider the possibility of that is to have the Democratic National Committee pay for it,” Crist said. The Florida Democratic Party said the state estimates the cost would be $25 million.
Getting funding from the national committee might be difficult when the party has a general election to wage. Last August, the DNC offered to spend $800,000 for a later caucus, but the Florida state party rejected the idea because the amount would have only been enough to set up 150 caucus sites for the state’s 4.1 million Democrats. “It wasn’t a real offer. It just wasn’t. It was not something anybody could agree to with a straight face,” said state party spokesman Mark Bubriski.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean issued a statement Wednesday that seemed to leave the matter for the states to resolve.
Dean said Michigan and Florida have two options: either submit a new plan for a process for choosing their convention delegates, or appeal to the Convention Credentials Committee, which resolves issues about the seating of delegates.
“The Democratic Nominee will be determined in accordance with party rules, and out of respect for the presidential campaigns and the states that did not violate party rules, we are not going to change the rules in the middle of the game,” he said.
Michigan Democrats are discussing holding a “firehouse” contest in May or June that would be an alternative to a traditional primary or caucus and run by the state party, said a Democratic Party official who has been part of the discussions. “Firehouse” contests usually have fewer polling places and shorter voting hours than traditional state-run primary elections.
The party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private, said there was general consensus that it could not be held at taxpayers’ expense and would attempt to generate participation from about 1 million state Democrats.
House and Senate Democrats from Florida and Michigan planned to meet Wednesday night on Capitol Hill to discuss ways of getting their state’s delegates seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, Democratic aides said.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman said the party is open to another vote, as long as it meets three criteria. Both candidates would have to fully participate, a source of funding would have to be provided and it would have to allow all the state’s Democrats to participate, including those serving in the military overseas. So far, she said, no suggested alternative has met those requirements.
“It is very possible that no satisfactory alternative plan will emerge, in which case Florida Democrats will remain committed to seating the delegates allocated by the January 29th primary,” Thurman said in a statement.
Obama’s campaign says whether to have a repeat contest is up to the national committee, but has signaled a willingness to participate. “We’re going to abide by their rules as they exist now and whatever happens in the future,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s for our campaign or her campaign — we’re in a heated contest here — to have to be the facilitators here,” Plouffe said. “This is between the DNC and those state parties.”
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington, Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.