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FixCam: The Fate of Michigan and Florida

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The Democratic nomination fight will be the focal point of this short week.

The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet this Saturday in Washington to -- theoretically -- decide the fate of the delegates selected in the Florida and Michigan primaries earlier this year.

At issue is how much a penalty (if any) the two states will pay for moving their votes to earlier dates, which led the DNC to strip their delegates.

At the time, the penalty seemed more symbolic than anything else as the eventual nominee was expected to quickly reinstate the states' delegates. But, as the nomination skirmish between Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) went on (and on), the delegates became a crucial political football.

For Clinton to have any realistic argument to make to superdelegates, she must push hard for full recognition --in terms of the delegate count and the popular vote -- for Florida and Michigan.

Full inclusion of both states would put Clinton ahead in the popular vote count -- a critical foothold for her to remain in the race. Clinton "won" Michigan by more than 328,000 votes because Obama took his name off the ballot; in Florida Clinton took 857,208 votes to Obama's 569,041.

It would not, however, fundamentally alter the pledged delegate count. Clinton could gain as many as 47 delegates based on the results of Florida and Michigan but would still trail Obama by 111 pledged delegates.

With such high stakes for the New York senator, her campaign is playing hardball -- arguing that nothing short of total recognition of the Florida and Michigan delegates will be accepted.

"Most important to Mrs. Clinton is that the views of the voters of the Michigan primary and Florida primary be respected and be reflected in terms of the allocation of delegates," said Harold Ickes, a senior adviser to the New York senator and a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee. "Both delegations should be seated, all delegates should be seated and all delegates should have a full vote each.

Obama's campaign seems far more willing to compromise, a stance reflective of the position of strength he holds in the campaign. David Axelrod, a senior Obama strategist, said in an NPR interview last week that the Illinois Senator would be "willing to go more than halfway" to seat the delegates. Axelrod added: "I guess the question is: Is Senator Clinton's campaign willing to do the same?"

It's impossible to know the answer to that question today. Any compromise is a defeat for Clinton and her campaign knows it. With so much at stake, neither the candidate nor her campaign will even broach the possibility of any option other than seating all of the delegates before the Rules and Bylaws Committee meets.

If the Clinton campaign doesn't get its way on Saturday, the candidate will have two options: accept the ruling and face the reality that she is not likely to win the nomination or appeal the ruling and extend the nomination fight into the foreseeable future.

The option she chooses (if the decision goes against her) could play a major role in determining how united the party will emerge from this protracted and divisive primary.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 27, 2008; 10:12 AM ET
Categories:  FixCam  
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