Levin Urges Splitting Michigan Democratic Delegates

Democrats in Michigan have been trying for months to get their pledged delegates counted. The state was stripped of its delegates after it defied Democratic Party rules and held its primary early. Host Renee Montagne talks with Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who recommends splitting the delegates among the two candidates so the delegates can be seated at the Democratic National Convention.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Michigan was also stripped of its delegates for defying party rules. Like Florida, it held its primary earlier than allowed. At the time, all of the Democratic candidates promised not to campaign in Michigan, and many took their names off the ballot, including Barack Obama. But Hillary Clinton was among those who left hers on.

Ever since, just like in Florida, the campaigns have been fighting over how to make those Michigan votes count. And now compromise is in the air. On NPR yesterday, the chief strategist for the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, had this to say.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist, Barack Obama): Any compromise is going to involve some give, and that means that may include us yielding more delegates than perhaps we would have simply on the basis of the rules.

MONTAGNE: Also yesterday, we reached Michigan Senator Carl Levin to talk about a plan he's helped hammer out with other political leaders in Michigan.

Good morning.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now Michigan has 128 pledged delegates. As I understand it, you're proposing that 69 go to Clinton, 59 to Obama. How'd you come up with that number?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, first of all, the only issue is whether or not the split in those 128 delegates should be 73/55 - which is what the Clinton people wanted, reflective of the actual vote which took place in the primary in Michigan - or whether it ought to be 64/64, as Senator Obama wants based on the ground that the primary was flawed. On the other hand, the Clinton people argue, well, it may have been flawed, but it was a primary, and those votes should count. And so we have split the difference.

MONTAGNE: Well, now that you have, as you say, split the difference, what response have you gotten from the campaigns?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, both campaigns have said publicly that they want our delegates seated. Neither campaign has yet accepted this specific proposal of splitting the difference, but both candidates have said something which I hope the Democratic National Committee's Rules Committee hears very clearly. Both candidates say that all of Michigan's delegates should be seated with a full voice.

MONTAGNE: Although one could argue that the Democratic National Committee warned Michigan not to hold its primary early, and you know, if one wanted to be punitive about it, you could say, why should Michigan's delegates be seated at all?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, they're not punishing Michigan. They're punishing the candidates. If Michigan is not seated or is punished in any way, that will hurt the chances of the Democratic candidate carrying Michigan this fall. Why on Earth a Democratic National Committee Rules Committee would want to reduce the chances of a Democratic candidate carrying Michigan or Florida is totally beyond me.

MONTAGNE: The DNC Rules Committee will meet at the end of the month to decide on seating delegates. Do you expect that they'll accept your proposal?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, I'm hopeful they will. I just can't imagine why the DNC would decide something which neither of the potential candidates want. They'll be just punishing the party if they decided to do it. And then we will take the next step, take this to the convention. No one, I hope, wants that outcome. But it would be senseless not seat our delegations.

MONTAGNE: Senator Levin, just a brief, this last question. If, at this point, and as you expect, the delegation from Michigan is allowed to be seated at the convention, just on a practical note, will it make a difference, those delegates, for either candidate?

Sen. LEVIN: You know, it's very hard to know how the superdelegates will split. Obviously, the odds are very, very strong in favor of an Obama candidacy, but as long as Senator Clinton is in the race and as long as the superdelegates have not all expressed themselves, there is at least a slim possibility that Senator Clinton can win. I'm not in the position to either give recommendation on that or even to make a certain assessment of that because I don't know how those uncommitted superdelegates are going to come down.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

Sen. LEVIN: Sure. Good being with you.

MONTAGNE: Carl Levin is the senior Democratic Senator from Michigan.

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