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Democrats compromise on Florida and Michigan PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 02 June 2008

Washington, June 01 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - The Democratic Party backed a compromise to seat the disputed Michigan and Florida delegations at reduced strength on Saturday, sparking anger from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and threats to press the issue at the August nominating convention.

At a raucous meeting of the party's rules committee, frequently interrupted by cheers and jeers from Clinton's backers, the panel agreed to seat the delegations from both states but cut their voting power in half.

The decision was a victory for front-runner Barack Obama, removing one of the last stumbling blocks on his march to the party's presidential nomination.

The vote moved the magic number to clinch the nomination to 2,118 delegates, leaving Obama about 70 short as he heads into Tuesday, when Montana and South Dakota hold the last votes in the lengthy Democratic presidential nominating fight.

The Illinois senator said he supported the resolution to the dispute, which had threatened to damage his chances in both states in November's presidential election against Republican John McCain.

"Our main goal is to get this resolved so we can immediately turn the focus of the entire party on winning Florida and Michigan," Obama told reporters while campaigning in South Dakota. "I recognize that there were compromises on all sides in resolving this issue."

Clinton did not respond as happily. Campaign officials said they reserved the right to appeal the decision to the party's credentials committee and carry the fight to the convention in Denver.

"Denver, Denver!" chanted Clinton supporters after the vote. Many Clinton backers stood and shouted at the panel as they tried to conclude the votes, making it hard for them to continue.

The committee rejected a Clinton-backed proposal to seat all the Florida delegates at full strength on a 15-12 vote, then backed compromises seating both the Michigan and Florida delegations while cutting their voting power.

The moves gave Clinton a net gain of 24 delegates, but still left her far behind Obama.

Clinton's supporters were particularly angry about the decision to award Obama delegates in Michigan, where he did not even appear on the ballot.

"I am stunned that we have the gall and chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," said Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, a member of the rules committee.

The panel backed a proposal by the state party to award Obama most of the delegates for those who voted for an "uncommitted" slot on the ballot.

NOT GOOD FOR PARTY UNITY

"We reserve the right to challenge this decision before the Credentials Committee and appeal for a fair allocation of Michigan's delegates that actually reflect the votes as they were cast," Ickes and Tina Flournoy, another Clinton backer and rules committee members, said in a joint statement.

Ickes said the deal "is not a good way to start down the path of party unity."

At issue was a rules committee decision last year to strip the two states of their delegates because they held nominating contests, both won by Clinton, earlier than party rules allowed.

Clinton signed a pledge along with the other candidates not to campaign in either state and Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot. Since winning both contests, Clinton has pressed for the results to be recognized.

Clinton had made the disputes over Florida and Michigan a rallying cry for her campaign, and the furor gained prominence because of the tight race and the likelihood it was her last chance to gain ground on Obama.

Officials said Democrats could pay a price in the November election against Republican John McCain if the delegations from the two election battlegrounds were not seated and the results counted.

"If you turn your back on the voters of Michigan or Florida, you are flirting with a McCain victory," said former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, appearing on behalf of Clinton.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of demonstrators, mostly Clinton supporters, jammed sidewalks outside the hotel, holding homemade signs reading "Count our Florida votes" and "50 states -- not 48." Most of the demonstrators were gone by mid-afternoon.

"We need to come together and unite this party," Howard Dean, the party chairman, told committee members.

Clinton, a New York senator, had cast the dispute in dramatic voting rights terms, visiting Florida last week to compare it to the state's recount in the 2000 presidential election and even Zimbabwe's disputed election in March.

Obama said he was willing to compromise in hopes of unifying the party and moving on to the general election campaign against McCain.

"We're extremely gratified that the commission agreed on a fair solution that will allow Michigan and Florida to participate in the Convention. We appreciate their efforts, and those of the party leadership of both states, to bring this resolution about," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

The meeting became raucous at times on Saturday, with supporters jeering and cheering statements offered by representatives of the campaigns.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Clinton supporter, said the state's early primary was set by the Republican-controlled legislature and state Democrats were not to blame.

"These voters violated no rule, they committed no crime, they did not move the primary forward. The Republican legislature did," Nelson said.

bdnews24.com/amt/1130 hrs.

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