How Clinton Shifted on Michigan, Florida Delegates Sen. Hillary Clinton once supported the Democratic National Committee's decision to punish Michigan and Florida for moving the date of their primaries. Now she says that not counting the votes violates the spirit of the Democratic Party.

How Clinton Shifted on Michigan, Florida Delegates

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Noah Adams.

Who would have thought a meeting of a so-called Rules and Bylaws Committee could generate so much interest?

This weekend, that portion of the Democratic National Committee will meet to consider the controversial case of Michigan and Florida. It's a case that has galvanized supporters of Hillary Clinton. Last year, when Michigan and Florida moved their primaries ahead of the start date set by the DNC, Clinton supported the party's decision to strip those states of their delegates. But this weekend her campaign will be pressing the party to give those delegates back.

NPR's David Greene has the story on how Clinton's position on the delegates has evolved.

DAVID GREENE: It may seem like a long time ago, but in September the crowd of Democrats running for president signed a pledge not to campaign in Florida or Michigan. The Democratic Party was punishing those states for moving up their primaries and diluting the importance of early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. At the time, the front-runner was Hillary Clinton. She signed the pledge, but she did a careful dance. Most candidates went so far as to take their names off the ballot in Michigan - Clinton left hers on. During an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio, a caller asked Clinton what was up.

Unidentified Woman: Now, just this week most of your Democratic competitors removed themselves from the Michigan primary ballot, but you didn't. And my question is why, because it strikes me that this is sort of politics as usual.

GREENE: Clinton said she stayed on the ballot in Michigan because she didn't want to totally dismiss voters in an important swing state.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): It's clear this election they're having is not going to count for anything. But I just personally didn't want to set up a situation where the Republicans are going to be campaigning between now and whenever and then after the nomination, you know, we have to go in and repair the damage to be ready to win Michigan in November 2008.

GREENE: But really, Clinton said, leaving her name on in Michigan wasn't a big deal.

Sen. CLINTON: I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot.

GREENE: It did make a difference. Clinton won Michigan's January primary and her closest competition was "Uncommitted." And January was the month her strategy shifted. No longer the front-runner, she needed every state she could get. By the time Florida voted a few weeks later, Clinton was making her case that the votes in Florida did matter. It helped her win the state, and her campaign began a full-scale effort to count both Michigan and Florida in the nominating process. As for Clinton's earlier comment about Michigan and how being on the ballot didn't matter, well, by March she was telling NPR it did matter.

Sen. CLINTON: We all had a choice as to whether or not to participate in what was going to be a primary. And most people took their names off the ballot, but I didn't.

GREENE: The shift in strategy has given Clinton's campaign some explaining to do. That job has gone to a top adviser, Harold Ickes. In addition to being with the campaign, Ickes sits on the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee. That's the body that approved stripping the delegates in the first place and will consider the delegate question this Saturday. Ickes told reporters last week that the point of punishing Florida and Michigan was to scare other states out of moving their primaries up.

Mr. HAROLD ICKES (Rules and Bylaws Commission, Democratic Party; Clinton Campaign Advisor): We think that that signal was received, listened to, no other state broke the window.

GREENE: And so with that goal accomplished, Ickes said now it's time to make sure Florida and Michigan don't go into the fall feeling dissed by the Democratic Party. Clinton, meanwhile, has taken her argument to a new level. Last week in Florida, she talked about how women and African-Americans fought for the right to vote. She said the voice of the people should never be disregarded.

Sen. CLINTON: We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe. Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people.

GREENE: The Clinton campaign's best hope is that even a compromise by the party on Florida and Michigan could bolster her argument that her popular vote wins in the two states are important. Even then, Clinton will remain behind Obama in delegates, which is the math that counts.

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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