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Fireworks, Solutions, Expected At DNC Meeting

By Reid Wilson

In one of the more bizarre twists in this increasingly bizarre year, the Democratic National Committee's ordinarily ignored Rules and Bylaws Committee will consider proposals that could reinstate at least some of Florida's and Michigan's convention delegates, stripped last year after both states held primaries earlier than allowed. How the votes are cast could end, or seemingly endlessly extend, the Democratic presidential primary.

The challenges, filed by a Florida DNC member and the Michigan Democratic Party, seek to reinstate at least half the pledged delegate votes from both states as well as the full compliment of super delegates in each. And while the proposed solutions would benefit Hillary Clinton's campaign, giving her added delegates and moving the goal still further for rival Barack Obama, the Illinois Senator's campaign has signaled that, to move beyond the issue, they are willing to accept some compromise.

"Everybody would like to see Florida and Michigan at the convention," committee member and Obama backer Allan Katz, of Florida, told Real Clear Politics. "The question is, in what form, and what's the basis for the distribution of the delegates."

Both campaigns are watching the meeting, in which the stakes are sky-high, with rapt attention. "We're going to have a long day, and I think at the end of it we will seat some delegates from Michigan and Florida," said South Carolina Democratic Party chair Carol Khare Fowler, a member of the committee and another Obama supporter. "I expect that we will come together around some solution that provides some delegates to Florida and Michigan and respects the rules and the process," added Ralph Dawson, a committee member from New York who is not publicly backing a candidate.

Clinton's team wants both delegations allocated in full, which would give her an additional 73 of the 128 delegates in Michigan and somewhere around 110 of the 185 delegates in Florida. "We fully expect the DNC committee to seat the delegates fully," Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said on a call with reporters on Wednesday. That, most committee members agree, is an unlikely solution, and one the Obama campaign will not accept.

In order to give some representation to both states, Florida and Michigan party leaders have suggested the two states' full delegations be allowed half a vote per delegate at the convention. That would likely lead to a net gain of 19 delegates for Clinton out of Florida and a net gain of ten delegates out of Michigan. Obama's campaign has signaled it might accept a deal. "We're open to some compromise here that's fair," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a conference call with reporters this week. "Any compromise is clearly going to benefit Senator Clinton, but we're willing to seat some delegates here in the interest of bringing this to resolution."

The most likely scenario would have Florida allocate their delegates, with half a vote each, based on the initial primary results. That would give Clinton 56 additional votes at the convention and Obama 37 votes. The Michigan Democrats' appeal to the committee suggests a ten-delegate advantage for Clinton as a solution to that state's contest, in which Obama removed his name from the ballot. Divided in half, that would be an additional 34.5 votes for Clinton and 29.5 votes for Obama.

In Michigan, four party elders -- Senator Carl Levin, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, longtime DNC member Debbie Dingell and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger -- have suggested a compromise of their own. Clinton won 73 delegates in the state, to 55 awarded to uncommitted delegates who would likely back Obama, while the Obama camp wants delegates evenly divided at 64 a piece. Splitting the difference, the state party has offered 69 delegates to Clinton and 59 to Obama.

Currently, a candidate needs 2,026 delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Should both delegations be given half a vote and the combined 53 super delegates be reinstated, 2,131 delegates would be needed to clinch a win. Should the proposal pass, Obama would score a total of 2,050.5 delegate votes, along with the ten super delegates from those two states who had backed him, putting him 70.5 delegates short of the 2,131 mark. Clinton would wind up with 1,871.5 delegates, along with the 15 Florida and Michigan super delegates backing her.

Arguments for reinstating each slate are likely to come under fire. Jon Ausman, the Florida DNC member who filed challenges on his state's behalf, has echoed many calls, both from the campaigns and from DNC members, for every state to be allowed to participate in the nomination. "The process involves 50 states, not just 48 states," Dawson said. In Michigan's case, the argument boils down to politics. "There is no Electoral College formula for a Democrat to win the White House which does not include Michigan's 17 electoral votes," Michigan party chair Mark Brewer wrote in a letter to the committee.

Katz and Brewer, who is also on the Rules and Bylways Committee, will not be allowed to vote on their own states' situations. Adding to the pressure to compromise, neither campaign can claim a majority of the twenty-seven remaining voting members when either Katz or Brewer sit out. Thirteen of the RBC members are Clinton backers, while nine, including Katz, back Obama. The remaining six are uncommitted. The two committee chairs, former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and DNC member James Roosevelt, of Massachusetts, would only vote in case of a tie, and both are uncommitted super delegates.

Some top party leaders are already beginning to look toward the next contested Democratic primary. "We should always learn from our experiences, and it would be appropriate, when this cycle is over, to look at what has occured and see if there are ways in which we can improve the process," Dawson said. "People are concerned about [the process]," Khare Fowler added. But, she said, "it's a little early to come up with an actual proposal."

This weekend, though, the focus is on arguments Ausman and Brewer, and their supporters, will make on behalf of Florida and Michigan. At the last meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, on a cold morning late last Fall, a grand total of two reporters were on hand to witness what was supposed to be the finalized calendar. Tomorrow, along with hundreds of protestors demanding their voices be heard, hundreds of journalists will be on hand as an ordinarily overlooked group of party regulars find their time in the spotlight (At press time, 400 had requested credentials).

And while it may take more than a single day of meetings, any solution will have to win over both campaigns and a majority of the committee's twenty-eight members and two co-chairs, all of whom are long-term students of party rules, making a rush to their candidates slightly less likely. "It takes two to tango," Katz joked. "Actually, in this case, it takes fourteen to tango."

Reid Wilson is an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at reid@realclearpolitics.com

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