TALLAHASSEE - Facing strong opposition, Florida Democrats yesterday abandoned plans to hold a do-over presidential primary with a mail-in vote and threw the delegate dispute into the lap of the national party.
"A party-run primary or caucus has been ruled out, and it's simply not possible for the state to hold another election, even if the party were to pay for it," US Representative Karen L. Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, wrote in a letter announcing the decision.
"This doesn't mean that Democrats are giving up on Florida voters. It means that a solution will have to come from the [Democratic National Committee] Rules & Bylaws Committee, which is scheduled to meet again in April."
After the mail-in idea was floated last week, members of Florida's congressional delegation unanimously opposed the plan, and Barack Obama expressed concern about the security of a mail-in vote organized so quickly.
While the decision by Florida Democrats left the state's 210 delegates in limbo, Democrats in Michigan moved closer to holding another contest on June 3. Legislative leaders reviewed a measure yesterday that would set up a privately funded, state-administered do-over primary.
The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates to the party's national convention this summer in Denver.
All the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, and Obama was not even on the Michigan ballot.
Hillary Clinton, who won both primaries, has vigorously pushed for the two states' delegates to be seated or new primaries held as she tries to catch Obama in the delegate count.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who backs Clinton, has suggested one option - seating all Florida delegates already chosen but only giving them half a vote each. Nelson discussed this idea with Clinton and Obama on the Senate floor last week. Based on the Jan. 29 results in Florida, Clinton would have won 105 delegates, Obama 67 and John Edwards 13. Instead they would get half those delegate votes.
"We will continue to work with both Florida and Michigan to come to a solution that's fair and within the rules," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Stacie Paxton.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that the congressional delegation is talking with the DNC and both campaigns to find another solution to seating Florida's delegates, including an idea that would take into account the January vote among other factors.
In Michigan, the draft legislation included language that would approve spending privately raised funds for the election, according to a Democratic leader who spoke on condition of anonymity because lawmakers and the campaigns are still considering the proposal.
The campaigns of the Democratic presidential contenders also received copies of the bill yesterday. Clinton has said she would go along with another primary.
"If the Obama campaign thwarts a fair election process for the people of Michigan, it will jeopardize the Democratic nominee's ability to carry the state in the general election," Clinton campaign aide Harold Ickes said yesterday.
But Obama's campaign said yesterday it was wary of Clinton "cynically trying to change the rules at the 11th hour for her own benefit."
"We received a very complex proposal for Michigan revote legislation . . . and are reviewing it to make sure that any solution for Michigan is fair and practical," spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "We continue to believe a fair seating of the delegation deserves strong consideration."
The contest must be held by June 10 for the results to count under DNC rules.