Obama, Clinton camps seek end to delegate dispute - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Obama, Clinton camps seek end to delegate dispute

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton bargained and bickered through intermediaries Saturday over the fate of 368 convention delegates from Florida and Michigan, a lingering dispute that threatened Democratic hopes for party unity at this summer's convention and in the fall campaign for the White House.

Committee members met privately and struggled to hammer out a deal after hearing five hours of arguments from representatives of both states and from the campaigns. Although they agreed to seat the Florida delegation based on the outcome of the January primary - with each delegate getting half a vote as a penalty - they tussled over how to distribute delegates in Michigan where Obama's name wasn't on the ballot.

Clinton's camp insisted Obama shouldn't get any pledged delegates in Michigan since he chose not to put his name on the ballot. Obama's team insisted the only fair solution was to split the pledged delegates in half between the two campaigns.

No matter the outcome of the convention Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, the front-running Obama projected undiminished confidence he would wrap up the nomination shortly after the final primaries of the campaign on Tuesday.

Clinton trails Obama by about 200 delegates in a tally by The Associated Press, and her supporters pressed the convention panel to award her as many delegates as possible from the two disputed states. Aides also cautioned she might not accept the committee's word as final, raising the prospect of a disruptive dispute at the convention in August.

"Your actions today will put our party on a course of unity," Howard Dean, the party chairman, told members of the committee gathered at a hotel a few miles from the White House.

The Rules Committee last year voted to strip Florida and Michigan of all their delegates after they violated party rules by moving their primaries too early in the calendar. But with both states likely to be important general election battlegrounds, the committee agreed to consider how to give the states' delegations some representation at the party's convention in August.

There was no doubt that was the goal around the committee table and in the private conversations where compromises were floated - but that didn't make compromise any easier as a historic Democratic nominating contest between a black man and a woman neared an end. And the occasional displays of emotion among spectators at the meeting underscored the stakes.

"In life you don't get everything you want. I want it all," Florida state Sen. Arthenia Joyner said with a smile as she advanced a plan that would give Clinton 105 delegates from her state, to 67 for Obama.

Rep. Robert Wexler was no less emphatic in countering for Obama. He proposed that each Florida delegate receive a half-vote - effectively cutting the impact of Joyner's plan in half. He described his own proposal as an "extraordinary concession in order to promote reconciliation with Florida's voters," but when he made it, boos from Clinton supporters competed with cheers from the Obama backers inside the room.

If anything, the Michigan case was more complicated than the one in Florida. Clinton's name was on the ballot, but Obama's was not. The former first lady gained 55 percent of the vote to 40 percent for "uncommitted," with many of whose votes presumed to have been cast in support of Obama.

Mark Brewer, the state party chairman, urged the panel to award Clinton 69 delegates and Obama 59 - an allocation that neither candidate has endorsed publicly.

Not long afterward, former Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign, said the delegates "should be split evenly between the two candidates." Clinton supporters booed at that.

But former Gov. Jim Blanchard, representing Clinton, said the former first lady should receive 73 delegates, with 55 awarded to uncommitted, in accordance with the primary vote. "Respect the voters of our great state. They deserve respect," he said.

Committee members met privately at dinner Friday and again during a lunch break from the hearing, and officials said numerous compromise proposals have been discussed and shared with the two campaigns.

All of them would allow the former first lady to draw closer to her rival without threatening his hold on the nomination.

Several hundred protesters maintained a noisy but peaceful presence on the sidewalk outside the hotel where party activists met.

Beverly Battelle Weeks, 56, said she got up before dawn to make the drive from Richmond, Va., for the rally. She carried a black umbrella on which she had pasted letters spelling out "Count All Votes."

"The right thing to do is to seat all the delegates. Anything less is not democratic," she said.       Obama is a mere 42 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination in the Associated Press tally, and appears on track to wrap up the party prize in the coming days. He intends to signal the beginning of his general election campaign next Tuesday by holding a rally in the arena in St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans are staging their convention this summer.

"We're going to come together," he said at a town hall meeting in Rapid City. He praised Clinton's spirited challenge and said, "She is going to be working on behalf of the Democratic party."

Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico in search of a big win in Sunday's primary, with 55 delegates at stake.

The disputed delegates included 211 from Florida, 185 who would have been elected if the primary had counted, and an additional 26 superdelegates, who are party leaders.

For Michigan, the breakdown was 128 delegates who would have been elected if the primary had counted and an additional 29 superdelegates.

"We have suffered horribly," said Jon Ausman, a Democratic National Committee member from Florida. He recommended that the rules committee give all his state's superdelegates a full vote at the convention and grant one-half vote to the rest.

Moments later, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a Clinton supporter, urged a full vote for all 211 of the state's delegates. He said nearly two million Democrats voted in the disputed primary, adding that they "violated no rule. Yet they are the ones who would be unfairly punished. And they do not deserve punishment."

At the same time, he seemed to say he supported Ausman's proposal for something less than his own proposal.                          

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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