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Democrat party leaders inch toward agreement on Florida, Michigan

March 9, 2008 |  4:40 pm

What a mess this Michigan-Florida business has made for the Democrats! But signs began to emerge today from several directions that some kind of bi-state compromise might be emerging.

With polls and early voter tuHoward Dean chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former governor of Vermont works on a compromise between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over seating the Florida and Michigan delegations to the party's national convention in Denver in Augustrnout auguring a very good political year for Democrats, the last thing that fragile coalition of interests wants is to be torn asunder by an enduring struggle or hard feelings by a wing supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Already the Republican nominee, John McCain, is at work on his general election team, plans and strategy while the two Democratic camps, for lack of any real substantive differences to dispute, argue over advisor's remarks, plagiarism, Ken Starr of all people and what time of night crisis calls arrive in the White House. Plus Michigan and Florida.

The problem began with the now-humorous multi-state rush to the....

front of the calendar line to hold state primaries, thinking the early states would be decisive this cycle. At least that's the way it looked way, way back in 2007. Now, with the Obama-Clinton race fairly tight, all eyes are focused on Pennsylvania of all places on April 22. So, early wasn't best after all.

Anyway, despite Democratic Party rules and warnings to protect the early status of New Hampshire and Iowa for reasons that no one outside those irrelevant states can really explain, Florida and Michigan defiantly moved their dates up.

Some state Republican parties did the same, but the GOP's punishment was to reduce, not eliminate, their delegates.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, whose own presidential campaign blew up in Iowa when he did too one night four years ago, ruled that both states' delegations would not be recognized at the convention in Denver in late August. It is, of course, ultimately untenable for either party to write off two such important states.

But almost everybody among the serious candidates played along. Most removed their names from the Michigan ballot except Clinton, who never got around to it. And they all honored the ban on campaigning in either place, although some did hold Florida fundraisers, which were allowed. And somehow, son of a gun, word got out to the media, so the cameras and reporters were there and it looked, for all the world, like campaigning to millions of viewing voters.

Clinton won in both places and even held a victory rally in Florida after the election that wasn't supposed to matter. With no Obama on the ballot, she got 55% of the Michigan Democratic vote. But, ominously, even without serious opposition fully 40% of the party voted for "Uncommitted" instead of her.

As a bargaining position, Clinton has held that both states should be counted and seated and millions of votes not disregarded (not counting Florida votes has bad echoes for Democrats since 2000). And doing so would, not coincidentally, erase much of her delegate deficit behind Obama, who opposes it.

What to do?

Another vote in both places? Expensive and both state's governors -- one Democrat and one Republican -- said public money shouldn't be wasted on a fractious party's unnecessary internecine fight. A caucus? Given his impressive record with caucuses, that clearly favors Obama and requires finding hundreds of meeting sites.

Let them fight it out before the credentials committee in August? Could leave hard feelings in the loser's camp and only two months to patch things.

Leave it to the superdelegates? How could they realistically go against the two states' documented popular vote? But, oops, those votes aren't supposed to count.

Today, as often happens on slow winter Sundays after the NFL season, more attention was paid to the Sunday talk shows by folks who weren't going to church. And there, a possible consensus began to emerge among Democrats.

The answer: a mail-in ballot. The cost: maybe $6 million, according to Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who proposed the solution and is working with Michigan's Democratic Sen. Carl Levin on a compromise. According to law, Florida's party can accept unlimited donations.

Dean on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," said mail-in ballots were "not a bad way to do this." On the same show Levin expressed concerns over security for a million or so mailed ballots but said, "Only a mail-in kind of a vote will work."

On the same program and CBS' "Face the Nation," Dean claimed it was a "bigger issue than Florida and Michigan. We have a very close contest between two people who are likely to be elected President of the United States, whichever one wins the nomination. I have to run these rules so that the losing side feels they've been treated fairly."

Dean added that some solution needs to be completed within the next three months. When anyone looks back over the last three months, June 10 seems like an eternity of twisting and turning and bickering away.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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