DNC won't give in on Fla., Mich., official warns

States must redo primaries to be seated

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / March 20, 2008

Unless Florida and Michigan Democrats devise workable plans to redo their outlaw primaries, there is no chance the national party will yield to pressure and approve their delegates if it could tip the outcome of the Democratic presidential race, a potential key arbiter of the dispute said yesterday.

James Roosevelt Jr. of Massachusetts, cochairman of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee, said in an interview with the Globe that he doubts there will be a resolution of the standoff without the states devising do-over contests to be held before June 10.

Florida's Democratic Party this week abandoned a proposal to hold a mail-in primary, and there were signs yesterday that the Michigan Legislature's plan for a June 3 primary was falling apart after legal questions were raised by the campaign of Barack Obama. At a hastily arranged campaign stop yesterday in Detroit, rival Hillary Clinton challenged Obama to support new contests in Michigan and Florida, saying it would be "wrong and frankly un-American" to disenfranchise nearly 2.5 million voters.

Her campaign accused Obama of blocking a revote, citing a memo issued earlier yesterday by Roosevelt and the rules committee cochairwoman, Alexis Herman, saying they believed the Michigan plan could pass muster with the party.

Obama accused Clinton yesterday of being "completely disingenuous" on Florida and Michigan, telling CNN that she didn't show concern for the voters in the two states until "it looked like she would have no prospects of winning the nomination without having them count."

Roosevelt, asked whether the party might yield to a compromise to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations that did not include another contest approved by the Democratic National Committee, said: "As long as it could affect the outcome, [there's] no chance of that."

At stake are 128 pledged delegates in Michigan and 185 in Florida, which were voided by the DNC because the two states flouted party rules and moved up their primaries to January. Another 28 superdelegates, elected officials and party leaders, in Michigan and 25 in Florida are also in limbo.

Clinton, who trails Obama by 118 delegates in the latest Associated Press tally, beat Obama handily in Florida and "uncommitted" by a wide margin in Michigan, where Obama's name did not appear on the ballot. Both candidates kept a pledge not to campaign in either state. Had the January results counted, Clinton would have had a net gain of 38 delegates in Florida and at least 18 in Michigan.

In the interview, Roosevelt also said national party officials are resolved to maintain an orderly nominating process. That could be jeopardized if the party backs down against the two scofflaw states.

"If there is simply a caving on this, we'll end up with primaries on Halloween, and so that does at least counter some of the purely political campaign influences here," said Roosevelt, who is also chief executive officer of Tufts Health Plan of Massachusetts.

The only matters now officially before the rules committee are two challenges by a Florida DNC member. One seeks instatement of the state's 25 superdelegates who were excluded from the convention as part of the DNC decision to punish Florida. The other seeks to restore half of the pledged delegates. The penalty called for stripping the state of at least half its delegates, but the party decided to exclude 100 percent. The committee is expected to take up the matter next month.

Every aspect of the process now will be viewed through the prism of the politics of this historic and divisive campaign for the party's nomination. Several members of the rules committee have contributed to either Clinton or Obama, and member Harold Ickes is a high-profile adviser to the Clinton campaign.

But Roosevelt said he and 29 other members of the rules and bylaws committee, despite relationships and loyalties based on years in party politics, take very seriously the role of impartial referee. The members, he said, "tend to be, first of all, committed to the institution of the Democratic Party, and secondly, they also tend to be rules geeks."

He cited Ickes, a friend, as a good example, voting as a committee member to penalize the two states but, as a Clinton partisan, advocating that the delegations be seated. "Harold's been pretty straightforward about that," Roosevelt said. "He'll say, 'I'm talking with a different hat on now.' "

Roosevelt, who has a reputation for probity during several decades as a party activist, has never endorsed a candidate in a contested Democratic primary. He has been a member of the rules and bylaws committee for more than 20 years and a cochairman since 1995. Roosevelt and Herman, both of whom held posts in the administration of Bill Clinton, have stayed neutral in the Clinton-Obama contest.

Roosevelt said he has "good feelings" for both Clinton, a friend for 20 years, and for Obama, whom he introduced at the senator's first speech at the National Press Club - on the subject of Social Security, a key piece of the New Deal legacy of his grandfather, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, who is a superdelegate, said he will vote for a candidate at the convention but has given no hint whom he favors.

Until then, he said, "I am neutral in my heart because I am committed to the fairness of the process."

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