By KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 9, 2007; 7:57 PM
LANSING, Mich. -- Five Democratic candidates have withdrawn from Michigan's Jan. 15 presidential primary, leaving what amounts to a beauty contest for front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and a handful of lesser-knowns.
Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson filed paperwork Tuesday, the deadline to withdraw from the ballot, said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State's office. Two other candidates, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich, said in statements that they also were bypassing the primary.
Although Michigan is a critical Midwest state in presidential voting, it violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving its primary earlier in the process. The candidates are honoring the DNC's wishes in skipping the contest.
Clinton broke with the leading candidates, with her campaign issuing a statement saying the New York senator will remain on the ballot. Chris Dodd also plans to stay on the ballot.
"We're honoring the pledge and we won't campaign or spend money in states that aren't in compliance with the DNC calendar," said Clinton spokesman Jay Carson. "We don't think it's necessary to remove ourselves from the ballot."
All the Democratic candidates already have agreed not to campaign in Michigan because it broke DNC rules when it moved its primary ahead of Feb. 5. Party rules say states cannot hold their 2008 primary contests before Feb. 5, except for Iowa on Jan. 14, Nevada on Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Jan. 22 and South Carolina on Jan. 29.
The calendar was designed to preserve the traditional role that Iowa and New Hampshire have played in selecting the nominee, while adding two states with more racial and geographic diversity to influential early slots.
"This is an extension of the pledge we made, based on the rules that the DNC laid out," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "We still hope that Michigan Democrats can adopt a process that meets DNC rules and, if so, look forward to fighting for the votes of men and women across the state."
Edwards' campaign said the candidate is strongly committed to Iowa.
"In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada voters can look their candidate in the eye and determine who is best to bring about real change in America," said Edwards' campaign manager, former Michigan Rep. David Bonior.
"In these early states issues matter more than money, celebrity and advertisements. Voters want and deserve a candidate who represents real people, not corporate special interests, and this primary process will help ensure that's exactly what the American people get," he said.
Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Dodd, said the Connecticut senator would remain on the Michigan ballot.
"It does not benefit any of us if we are the nominee to pull our name off the ballot and slight Michigan voters," Sevugan said.
Clinton advisers acknowledged party leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire might be irked by her refusal to pull out of Michigan. But removing her name from the ballot would be a needless insult to the state's voters _ one that could prove damaging in the general election, the advisers said.
The Biden campaign later issued a statement criticizing Clinton and Dodd, and arguing that the two campaigns "have chosen to hedge their bets, thereby throwing this process into further disarray. In doing so, they have abandoned Democrats in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina."
In New Hampshire, Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley welcomed the developments.
"Today's turn of events only further amplifies the fact that the Michigan primary is irrelevant," Buckley said in a statement. "Our secretary of state, Bill Gardner, now has more flexibility in his scheduling decision because the Michigan event is no longer a 'similar event' to the New Hampshire primary."
As punishment for breaking the rules, the DNC has vowed to strip Michigan and Florida, which scheduled its contest on Jan. 29, of their delegates. Florida has 210 delegates, Michigan 156.
"It's yet another reason why we need to get rid of Iowa and New Hampshire going first," said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer.
He said the state still will hold its joint Democratic-Republican presidential primary on Jan. 15 because it's state law. He declined to speculate about whether Democrats may decide to also hold a presidential caucus on Feb. 9 to officially pick a nominee from the full Democratic field and decide delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said the decision by the Democrats just opens Michigan to more campaigning by Republicans hoping to win the state and its electoral votes.
Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Iowa and Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.