Voters Face Confusion in Michigan Dem Race
Updated 6:37 p.m.
By Peter Slevin
CHICAGO -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only top-tier Democrat on the Jan. 15 Michigan primary ballot, but followers of her chief rivals are hoping to wound her all the same.
A fresh poll suggests that running nearly unopposed will not mean winning nearly 100 percent of the vote.
The campaigns of Sen. Barack Obama and former senator John Edwards are urging their supporters to cast ballots for "uncommitted," according to state Democratic party chairman Mark Brewer. The Obama campaign says there may be "grass-roots efforts," but that the Chicago-based campaign is not involved.
In an effort to signal that Clinton cannot stroll away with the state's delegates, even in a largely uncontested race, Michigan Rep. John Conyers and his wife, Detroit city council member Monica Conyers, taped a radio advertisement Wednesday afternoon. In it, they called on Obama backers not to surrender their vote.
They say on the radio spot that they intend to vote "uncommitted" and give Obama a chance to compete for those delegates in Denver.
An "uncommitted" vote would take the place of a write-in, which is not permitted.
"People are already frustrated here in Detroit because they can't cast a ballot for Obama. Many on their absentee ballots many have tried to write in Obama, but they have spoiled the ballots," said Sam Riddle, Monica Conyers's chief of staff. "We know we've got to educate the voters in a hurry."
Following Michigan law, local clerks are allowing voters a chance to redo their ballots.
The reason for the confusion is a fight between Michigan's leading Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and the Democratic National Committee. Frustrated that Iowa and New Hampshire were getting so much attention, Michigan's political elites in both parties changed their Feb. 9 caucus to a primary and bumped it to Jan. 15.
The Republican National Committee did not object, meaning the GOP results will stand. But the DNC declared that no delegates chosen that day would be seated at this summer's convention -- the same sanction imposed on Florida. Neither side budged.
During the stand-off, Clinton kept her name on the Michigan ballot. Obama and Edwards did not.
Michigan voters will see Clinton on a list with three candidates who have been afterthoughts this season: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), former Alaska Gov. Mike Gravel and Sen. Christopher Dodd (CT), who has dropped out.
Mo Elleithee, a Clinton spokesman, said the New York senator will not be campaigning in Michigan.
"We signed a pledge saying we wouldn't campaign there," Eleithee said, "and we're honoring that pledge."
A Michigan poll of 300 likely Democratic voters taken Monday and Tuesday, before Clinton's narrow win over Obama in New Hampshire, suggested that 47 percent would support Clinton and 28 percent would vote "uncommitted."
Another 10 percent volunteered "other" and 10 percent said they were undecided, according to the poll by Rossman Group/MIRS/Denno-Noor.
Michigan Democrats are trying to spread the word that voters should vote, whether or not they choose a candidate on the ballot. Brewer said he and party spokesman Jason Moon have done nearly 100 media interviews, including one on YouTube and many on local radio. The party is also sending emails to registered voters.
If "uncommitted" receives at least 15 percent in a congressional district or statewide, Brewer said, delegates will be sent to Denver where any candidate -- including Clinton -- can compete for them.
Despite the brouhaha and the DNC's vow not to seat delegates chosen next week, Brewer feels confident. Historical precedent and the high stakes in the November election convince him that primary votes in Michigan and Florida will count.
"I think we'll get seated. I'm not concerned about that penalty at all," Brewer said. "Politically, the Democratic nominee needs to win Michigan and Florida, and they are not going to start the general election campaign by antagonizing the parties in those two states."
This is the script of the John and Monica Conyers radio ad, which will be broadcast on Detroit-area stations. Monica Conyers is president pro-tem of the Detroit City Council.
MALE: THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IS CONFUSING. I WANT TO VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA BUT OBAMA'S NAME IS NOT ON THE BALLOT.
FEMALE: THERE IS NO ONE ON THAT BALLOT I WANT TO BE PRESIDENT.
MALE: WELL, THESE FOLKS CAN HELP US. EXCUSE ME, CONGRESSMAN CONYERS AND COUNCILWOMAN CONYERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP.
FEMALE: HOW CAN WE VOTE FOR OBAMA ON TUESDAY?
Rep. Conyers: YOU CAN'T. YOU CANNOT EVEN WRITE IN OBAMA'S NAME. IF YOU DO YOUR VOTE WILL NOT COUNT BECAUSE OBAMA'S CAMPAIGN CHOSE NOT TO PLACE HIS NAME ON THE MICHIGAN BALLOT SO AS NOT TO VIOLATE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY RULES. BUT YOU CAN VOTE UNCOMMITTED
Councilwoman Conyers: IF AT LEAST 15% OF THE PEOPLE VOTE UNCOMMITTED, THE STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY MUST SEND THAT PERCENTAGE OF DELEGATES TO THE NATIONAL CONVENTION UNCOMMITTED.
Rep. Conyers: MY WIFE AND I ARE VOTING UNCOMMITTED. WE WILL WORK WITH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY TO MAKE SURE THAT UNCOMMITTED DELEGATES GO TO THAT CONVENTION TRULY UNCOMMITTED SO THAT OBAMA CAN COMPETE FOR THEIR VOTE.
MALE: THANK YOU CONGRESSMAN CONYERS AND COUNCILWOMAN CONYERS. I WILL JOIN YOU AND VOTE UNCOMMITTED ON TUESDAY.
FEMALE: ME TOO - AT LEAST MY VOTE WON'T BE WASTED
Councilwoman Conyers: THIS TRUTH IN POLITICS MESSAGE WAS PAID FOR BY FRIENDS OF MONICA CONYERS
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