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Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and those pesky MI and FL delegates

March 6, 2008 |  9:40 am

With the Democratic presidential nomination fight looking more and more like a draw, party leaders are becoming increasingly concerned about internal fallout should neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seal the deal the old-fashioned way -- by earning enough delegates for a first-round win at the Democratic National Convention.

As our colleague Peter Nicholas reports in today's paper, the Clinton campaign is still pushing the national party to count delegates from the Michigan and Florida primaries, which she won. You'll recall that those states were stripped of their delegates because the state parties jumped the line and held unsanctioned early contests. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, made a pitch earlier in the week for both national parties to seat all the delegates from the two states (the Republicans stripped half the delegates from the gun-jumpers).

A couple of points: First, courts have been loath to interfere with internal political party spats, arguing, essentially, that it's up to the parties to create the rules and sort out the messes themselves. But one suspects that if the Democratic National Committee changes its mind and seats the delegates -- even with the acquiescence of the Obama campaign -- while the nomination hangs in the balance, there would be a legal challenge by Obama supporters arguing that the party had violated its own rules after the fact. This is especially significant in Michigan, where Obama removed himself ...

from the ballot because of the sanctions, which meant people there couldn't have voted for him if they wanted to. And that's the kind of challenge the courts might take up.

Second, why is Crist so hot to have the delegates seated? His candidate, John McCain, sealed the Republican nomination the night before Granholm and Crist made their pitches. Yes, it would be good for GOP unity to have everyone seated, and as the party's standard-bearer in Florida, Crist certainly has a responsibility to make that case. At this point, the Republican Party loses nothing by letting all the Floridians in, though we're reminded of the necessity of firm and consistent discipline to handle an unruly child.

But the delegates are more important to the Democratic race right now. And with many Republicans preferring that McCain face off against Clinton instead of Obama, Crist's stance sounds like political game playing, similar to that of the Ohio Republicans who voted for Clinton on Tuesday. And it should be noted that Granholm's intent might not be pure, either -- she's a superdelegate who endorsed Clinton last fall.

-- Scott Martelle