Democrats Meet Today To Hash Out Fla., Mich.

Democratic Party members rally outside the site of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting. Video by Ed O'Keefe/
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 31, 2008

When Democratic Party leaders voted on Aug. 25, 2007, to sanction Florida Democrats for moving up the date of their presidential primary, no one anticipated that the decision would lead to a tense showdown that will help decide the outcome of the nomination battle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Today, the 30 members of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee will hear challenges to that decision and a later ruling, which together barred delegations from Florida and Michigan from the national convention in Denver because those states violated the party's rules governing the nomination process.

Democrats on and off the committee said yesterday that a compromise appears likely that would restore half of the delegations from each state, although the precise terms remained under discussion. "It's clear something's going to be worked out," said Carol Fowler, the party chair in South Carolina and a member of the rules committee. Fowler is also an Obama supporter but was not speaking for the campaign.

Among the unresolved issues is how to allocate the delegates between the two candidates, particularly delegates from Michigan, where Clinton's name was on the ballot in the Jan. 15 primary but Obama's was not. There was growing talk yesterday that the committee could agree to split the state's delegates evenly between Clinton and Obama, a blow to Clinton.

In determining the allocation of delegates from Florida, the committee appears likely to use the results of the state's primary on Jan. 29.

Clinton will gain more delegates than Obama under almost any outcome, but there is widespread agreement that nothing the committee is likely to do will change the nomination battle's trajectory, which now has Obama moving steadily toward victory.

But after months of sparring and bad feelings between the two camps, the real question is whether both sides -- and the two states -- are prepared to accept what the committee decides, or will instead take their grievances to the party's credentials committee next month or possibly to the convention in August.

"What's at stake is whether this nominating process will come to a quick conclusion in a way that unifies the party, or whether it will drag on for weeks and perhaps months in a way that threatens party unity and potentially hurts the nominee and the party," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist and veteran of rules battles.

Clinton will send her team to today's meeting with a demand that the full delegations from both states be seated in Denver, that each of those delegates be given a full vote and that the delegates be allocated strictly on the basis of the results of the two primaries. But while she has drawn a hard line in the pre-meeting maneuvering, her advisers stopped short yesterday of threatening to take the fight beyond today.

"We think it's not useful to cross streams before we come to them," said Harold Ickes, who oversees Clinton's delegate operations and is also a member of the DNC's rules committee.

The story of how the Democrats got to this moment is a tale of personal egos, state pride, institutional integrity and raw political maneuvering. Its beginning dates back many years, and is rooted in competition between political leaders in Michigan, led by Sen. Carl M. Levin, who think their state should have a larger role in the nominating process; and those in New Hampshire, who have zealously guarded their state's first-in-the-nation primary.

Levin, who will present Michigan's case today, said in an interview Thursday night that he is prepared to carry on the fight if his state's full delegation is not seated in Denver with full voting rights, arguing that any other outcome would be appealed to the credentials committee.

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