DNC Lawyers Rule Against Clinton

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton stops at Mount Rushmore during a campaign swing through South Dakota.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton stops at Mount Rushmore during a campaign swing through South Dakota. (By Elise Amendola -- Associated Press)
By Shailagh Murray and Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's prospects of persuading Democratic officials to override party rules and recognize all delegates selected in the Florida and Michigan primaries suffered a setback yesterday after lawyers for the party ruled that no more than half of those delegations could be legally recognized.

Democratic National Committee lawyers wrote in a memo that the two states must forfeit at least half of their delegates as punishment for holding primaries earlier than DNC rules allowed. Clinton (N.Y.) prevailed in both contests, although the Democratic candidates had agreed not to campaign in Florida and Michigan, and Sen. Barack Obama removed his name from the Michigan ballot.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to make a final determination on Florida and Michigan, which would have collectively awarded 368 convention delegates. But in the memo, party lawyers determined that full restoration, as sought by Clinton, would violate DNC rules, although it did note a loophole that would allow her to carry the challenge to the first day of the Democratic National Convention in late August.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters that the senator from Illinois is prepared to forfeit a portion of his delegate lead, as part of a compromise to resolve the Florida and Michigan flap. "We don't think it's fair to seat them fully," Plouffe said of the two delegations. But he added, "We're willing to give some delegates here" in order to put the matter to rest.

If the current delegate tally were to hold, Plouffe said, Obama could pull within about 10 delegates of the 2,026 needed for the nomination, assuming he wins the South Dakota and Montana primaries as expected on Tuesday. The Saturday meeting is likely to increase the threshold, possibly by several dozen delegates, but campaign officials said they are confident that uncommitted superdelegates will quickly move to endorse Obama, pushing him over the finish line as early as Wednesday morning.

Plouffe said the campaign is not stockpiling superdelegates to roll out en masse, as many political observers have speculated. "We announce superdelegates as they commit to us," he said. But he said mid-next week would be "a natural time" for those who have not picked sides to finally break.

Obama is already acting like a general-election candidate. He spent the past three days in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado -- three states that held Democratic caucuses months ago but that are expected to be swing states in November.

Clinton visited South Dakota yesterday, including a stop at Mount Rushmore. Obama aired a new TV ad in Puerto Rico, which votes Sunday, and will depart Friday on a final three-day swing through Montana and South Dakota. Clinton is expected to spend the weekend in Puerto Rico, the biggest delegate prize of three remaining contests, and where she is favored.

But her best hope for late gains is at the DNC meeting on Saturday. Clinton supporters are organizing a "Count Every Vote" rally outside the meeting site and have bombarded committee members with phone calls and Florida oranges to press their case.

Obama's campaign sent a mass e-mail to supporters yesterday, urging them not to descend on the event. Plouffe said the campaign could easily muster "thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people" to counter Clinton's turnout, but said he wants to avoid an "unhelpful scene at the close of the nomination fight."

DNC lawyers found that the Rules and Bylaws Committee acted within its rights by voiding the Florida and Michigan results, after Michigan moved its primary to Jan. 15 and Florida moved its to Jan. 29. They did so in violation of party rules that called for state parties that did not receive waivers from the DNC to schedule primaries no earlier than Feb. 5.

Speaking to reporters on a morning conference call, senior adviser Harold Ickes refused to rule out a legal challenge if the committee does not rule in Clinton's favor. "That's a bridge to cross when we come to that particular stream," he said.

Clinton also appealed directly to superdelegates. "When the primaries are finished, I expect to lead in the popular vote and in delegates earned by primaries. Ultimately the point of our primary process is to pick our strongest nominee," she wrote in a letter to undeclared superdelegates.

Saturday's pro-Clinton event is being co-organized by the Women Count PAC -- founded by five top Clinton supporters, including longtime friend and fundraiser Susie Tompkins Buell -- and a coalition of disparate other groups working under the umbrella of Count Every Vote '08.

Organizers said that they expect people to come from 26 states for the rally, as well as some major celebrity speakers, and that they are receiving logistical assistance or other support from the pro-Clinton United Federation of Teachers and Emily's List.

Count Every Vote '08 first came together in mid-March to lobby Democratic superdelegates on behalf of Clinton. Allida M. Black, project director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt papers at George Washington University, joined with Tompkins Buell to start Women Count PAC two weeks ago. They raised more than $250,000 and used the money to buy newspaper ads, including ones that ran in the New York Times over the weekend calling on female readers to attend Saturday's rally.

Vick reported from the Obama campaign.

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