Democrats seek unity ahead of Florida-Michigan battle

June 1st, 2008 - 9:30 am ICT by admin  

Washington, June 1 (DPA) Democratic Party leaders focused on the need to retake the White House in November amid a passionate and at times acrimonious battle Saturday between supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over the disputed primaries of Florida and Michigan. “We are strong enough to struggle and disagree, and even be angry and disappointed, and still come together at the end of the day and be united,” Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), said in opening a special meeting of the party.

Hundreds of supporters - mainly Clinton’s - gathered outside a Washington hotel where the DNC’s 30-member rules committee heard challenges from Michigan and Florida’s Democratic parties to seat their delegates.

The two states violated the party’s schedule for primaries and were therefore stripped by the DNC last year of their seats at the convention in August in Denver.

But Florida’s state officials made a passionate plea for the state’s votes to be counted and often evoked the disputed 2000 presidential election, which most Democrats believe President George W. Bush unfairly won over Al Gore.

“I need not tell this committee that in Florida we’re pretty sensitive about having our votes taken away,” said Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who pointed out that a record number of voters turned out for the state’s January 29 primary despite being told it would not count.

Reinstating Florida and Michigan’s delegates is one of Clinton’s last hopes of wrestling the nomination from Obama, who holds a solid lead as almost five months of state-by-state primary election nears an end. The last contests, in South Dakota and Montana, are set for June 3.

Clinton wants Florida and Michigan’s January votes to be honoured in full, but faces an uphill battle for the nomination even if she does get her way. The former first lady won both states handily, though there was no campaigning and Obama’s name did not appear on Michigan’s ballot.

Clinton and many state officials have argued that shutting out the two populous, key states could alienate Democratic voters in the Nov 4 general elections. Obama and his supporters argue he was less well-known than Clinton in January, and would have faired better in the primaries had campaigning been allowed.

“This contest was not a normal primary election,” said Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, who on behalf of Obama’s campaign said he supported a proposal for half of the state’s delegates being reinstated.

The DNC’s rules committee held an at-times raucous meeting Saturday, hearing from representatives of both campaigns, the states’ parties and officials who filed complaints against Florida and Michigan’s punishment.

Both sides lamented that voters in each state had been disenfranchised by a decision of party officials. Clinton supporter Arthenia Joyner conceded that the turnout in Florida’s primary may have doubled if voters had not been told the primary did not count.

“Florida has well been punished. We’ve been hurt and we’ve been hurt badly,” said Jon Ausman, a member of Florida’s Democratic Party who challenged the DNC’s decision. “We need to end that. We have suffered horribly.”

The DNC has defended its action against the two states, arguing that doing nothing would have placed the entire intra-party nomination process in jeopardy. The fine details of the US primary system have rarely taken on such a key role in an election.

A decision could come by the end of Saturday. A possible compromise floated was to reinstate only half the states’ delegates.

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