By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 20, 2008
DETROIT, March 19 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) shifted her schedule to make a last-minute visit here Wednesday, demanding that the state's Democratic Party hold another primary vote or count the results of the earlier disqualified balloting, and she challenged Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to live up to his claim that he cares about making sure people's votes count.
"This is a crucial test: Does he mean what he says or not?" Clinton said.
Her decision to plant the flag in Michigan came amid ongoing wrangling between the Clinton campaign and state parties there and in Florida, another state with a disputed primary. The Michigan legislature has not yet voted on a bill that would establish a state-run primary in early June, replacing the unsanctioned voting that took place in January. Florida and Michigan Democrats were stripped of their convention delegates after scheduling their primaries earlier than national party rules permitted.
The Democratic National Committee said it would accept a proposal for a new round of balloting in Michigan, but the bill has been bottled up in part because Obama's campaign has raised objections to it.
Among those objections is that the legislation says that if an individual voted in the Jan. 15 Republican primary, he or she would be disqualified from voting in the do-over primary in June. Robert F. Bauer, an attorney for the Illinois senator's campaign, raised other potential problems with the latest Michigan proposal for a revote, saying it would be "unprecedented in conception and proposed structure," as no other state has ever "re-run an election in circumstances like these." While all sides had hoped they could avoid the controversy, the nomination standoff has made the results in Michigan and Florida potentially scale-tipping.
Clinton, adopting an increasingly indignant tone, described the voting controversy in both states as part of a question of democracy -- albeit one that just happens to address her deficit in pledged delegates. "Senator Obama speaks passionately on the campaign trail about empowering the American people. Today I am asking him to match those words with actions," Clinton said.
"That is why generations of brave men and women marched and protested, risked and gave their lives for this right, and it is because of them that Senator Obama and I stand before you as candidates for the Democratic nomination," Clinton said.
Obama supporters among the superdelegates who are likely to ultimately decide the nomination, conceded they still fear a late winning streak by Clinton. A big win in Pennsylvania on April 22, followed by victories in Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, could change superdelegate thinking on which candidate is more electable. Clinton victories in Florida and Michigan revotes would make matters worse for Obama.
"It would make no sense for the Obama campaign to give the Clinton campaign that extra ammunition," said an Obama supporter in the House. "That would make no sense at all."
Without new votes or a new plan for counting the disqualified ones, Clinton is likely to continue to trail Obama in pledged delegates even if she scores victories in Pennsylvania and several of the states that follow. Both Democrats are campaigning in upcoming states despite the six-week lull until the next contest; Clinton is scheduled to campaign in Indiana on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the four leaders of the effort to get Michigan's Democratic delegation seated -- Sen. Carl M. Levin, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and DNC member Debbie Dingell -- issued a statement urging the legislature to go ahead and approve the primary to assure the seating of Michigan's delegation, to avoid a credentials fight at the convention and to enhance the Democrats' chances of carrying Michigan in November.
The proposed legislation won informal approval from the co-chairs of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which ultimately must sign off on a plan submitted by the Michigan Democratic Party for a new primary.
One Democratic source said Michigan Democrats, in submitting their plan for a new primary based on the legislation, could ask to waive the provision barring those who voted in the Republican primary from the new Democratic contest.
The other development is a letter sent to Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm from Govs. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey -- all support Clinton -- certifying that they have obtained pledges from wealthy fundraisers who are prepared to guarantee the raising of as much as $12 million in private money to cover the cost of the primary.
Of the 10 donors listed in the letter as being willing to guarantee the money, eight are Clinton contributors and five are "Hillraisers": individuals who have raised at least $100,000 for her campaign. None of the 10 is an Obama donor.
If the legislation fails, it is possible that Democrats in Michigan would propose a vote-by-mail plan or a caucus to assure some kind of do-over contest.
Clinton's stop in Detroit pushed back her schedule in West Virginia. A stop in Huntington was moved to late afternoon. When she finally arrived, Clinton offered a different explanation for her tardiness. "We got off to a bit of a slow start this morning due to some weather delays," she told a group of veterans.
Staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.