Mich. Democrats at Impasse over Primary Do-Over

Presidential politics torpedoed a proposal to end a standoff between the Michigan Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee last week, as state legislators left for vacation without bringing the plan to a vote.

As a result, state party leaders are trying to devise a new way to get Michigan's delegates counted in the race for the Democratic nomination, reports Rick Pluta for Michigan Public Radio.

The impasse caused Sen. Hillary Clinton to make a sudden detour from the campaign trail for a stop at a Detroit union hall, even though Michigan's primary was more than two months ago.

Clinton hoped to sway the state's politicians to stage a "do-over" primary in early June. Although the New York Democrat won Michigan's Jan. 15 contest, the state was stripped of its delegates for violating Democratic National Committee rules by holding its primary early. The results of a new vote would stand. (Florida, which Clinton also won, was similarly punished but decided not to hold a new election.)

Clinton told the Detroit crowd that the DNC is wrong to punish the state by refusing to recognize the results.

"Here in Michigan, 600,000 people turned out on a cold and snowy day in January to cast your votes. And you made it abundantly clear that you wanted your voices to be heard and your votes to be counted," she said.

Supporters of Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama say their votes were never counted because his name was not on the ballot. Yet, the Obama campaign says a do-over primary would not undo the injustice.

The proposal would not allow people who voted in the Republican primary on Jan. 15 to participate. The Obama campaign believes it would attract voters who cast a ballot in the Republican primary for Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain as their second choice, or for Michigan native Mitt Romney, or simply to meddle in the GOP race.

Michigan's Democratic Party heavyweights – including U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow; Gov. Jennifer Granholm; U.S. Rep. Caroline Kilpatrick of Detroit, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger – supported a new primary as the fairest and quickest way to make Michigan relevant in the Democratic race.

The group secured promises from big party donors – most of them Clinton supporters – to pony up the $12 million needed to finance another primary.

That was not enough to get past Obama's supporters in the Michigan Legislature. The state House began its spring break Thursday night without voting on a do-over primary.

"I was really looking forward to getting out and helping to get out the vote," said Obama supporter Jackie Payne of Lansing, Mich. "I think Obama could have done extremely well, whether or not he would have won. I don't know obviously, but I don't think he really has any reason to fear a primary in Michigan."

Emily Castle, who supports Clinton, said Obama had his chance and lost it when he pulled his name from the Jan. 15 ballot. She said the fact that he did so to satisfy conditions set by the DNC does not matter.

Castle, who leads the Michigan State University chapter of Students for Hillary Clinton, argues that the DNC should apportion delegates based on Clinton's victory in the race. Clinton won 55 percent of the votes, far more than the nearly 40 percent cast in the "uncommitted" column."

"I think it's only fair that since the people of Michigan came out to vote for the candidate they wanted, and overwhelmingly that was Hillary Clinton, we should seat the delegates," Castle said.

That would narrow Obama's lead in the delegate count, which is not acceptable to his campaign.

Democratic leaders acknowledge they need to find a resolution that keeps Payne, Castle and voters like them happy.

Michigan has gone for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1992. However, the margins have narrowed in each of the past three elections, and Democrats worry that the trend will continue in November.

The party is reconsidering ideas once considered unworkable. They include a party-run caucus with mail-in and internet balloting, a "firehouse" primary with fewer voting sites than a full-blown election, or some negotiated allocation of delegates. Any of those options could help the Michigan Democrats and the DNC avoid an ugly clash at the party's national convention in Denver this summer.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer says he is optimistic about the prospects for a deal.

"Look, I've learned in politics a lot of times, problems can be difficult they can take a long time to solve, and you just keep trying, you just keep looking for creative solutions that meet the interests of all involved," Brewer said. "If one path doesn't work, you just try another."

Rick Pluta reports from member station Michigan Public Radio.

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