'Last stand' for Clinton at Democratic meeting
Sunday, 01 June 2008

Hillary Clinton waves during a campaign stopAFP, WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton Saturday makes a last stand in her ebbing White House bid, as the Democratic Party tries to defuse a unity-sapping row over voided primary votes in Michigan and Florida.

The legal wranglings of the Democratic National Committee's rules panel in a Washington hotel will mark the latest twist in Clinton's epic coast-to-coast nominating duel with Barack Obama, now drawing to a close.

The former first lady won elections in both Florida and Michigan which gatecrashed the party's set-in-stone nominating calendar -- but the states were punished and were stripped of their nominating convention delegates.

But now she needs both states to count in order to cut her delegate gap with the overwhelming front-runner Obama, and to claim she won the popular vote nationwide.

The rules committee must decide whether Clinton is right to argue that ignoring the states and cutting their delegates out of August's convention in Denver would disenfranchise 2.3 million people in vital battleground states.

Even in the unlikely event that Clinton gets both delegations seated, she would likely still lag more than 100 delegates behind Obama, after the last primaries, Puerto Rico on Sunday, and Montana and South Dakota Tuesday.

Going into Saturday's meeting, the Clinton campaign has laid out an uncompromising position.

"The first (point) is that the January results should count," said Tina Flournoy, a senior Clinton advisor on Friday.

"The second point is that the preferences expressed by those votes in that primary should be used to allocate the delegates to the candidates.

"The third thing we want, and we believe it is important, that the full delegations from both states be seated."

Obama has offered a compromise, and can afford to be generous as he leads every count of the Democratic race and would not be affected by a net delegate loss to Clinton over the Michigan and Florida imbroglio.

But Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe said on Thursday that his camp was not willing to give all of the delegates to Clinton -- not least because his candidate was not even on the ballot in Michigan.

Clinton's camp has not yet said whether they could prolong the marathon Democratic race, and even take their fight all the way to Denver if they do not get what they want this weekend.

Democratic National Committee staff lawyers said in a pre-meeting brief that it is not an option to restore full voting rights to all 210 delegates originally apportioned to Florida, and the 156 given to Michigan.

In a memo to the committee's 30 members recapping the party's rules, the lawyers said that at most, the DNC could reinstate half the delegates, or give half a vote each to all of them.

Clinton took 50 percent of the vote in Florida, where all the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign. In Michigan, where Obama took his name off the ballot, she took 55 percent to 40 percent for "uncommitted."

On the eve of the meeting, Obama was only 43 delegates short of the 2,026 total delegates needed to claim the nomination, though the number could change, depending on how the Democratic rules committee resolves Michigan and Florida.

Clinton was 244 delegates short, but at the end of the nominating calendar on Tuesday, either candidate will likely need support from the 200 or so "super-delegates," top party officials who can vote how they like at the convention, to get over the finish line.

The meeting is expected to draw busloads of Clinton supporters to protest that the former first lady, who originally backed the punishments handed to Florida and Michigan, is being treated unfairly.

The Obama campaign said it has asked its supporters to stay away, to avoid creating a "circus" atmosphere.

"I've even seen the word circus used, which I must tell you I find particularly offensive," said Clinton aide Flournoy.

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