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Big names pull out of Michigan’s primary

Times Staff Writer

What if a state held a presidential primary election and nobody came?

Michigan may be about to find out.

Half of the Democratic presidential candidates withdrew from Michigan’s Jan. 15 primary Tuesday, leaving Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York as the only top-tier candidate still on the ballot and effectively ending Michigan’s hopes of cutting in near the head of the primary lineup.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Jason Moon. “It’s just another example of how damaging the Iowa and New Hampshire monopoly is to the nominating process.”

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Moon said the party had made no decision on whether to postpone the primary.

The withdrawals further roiled an already unstable primary and caucus calendar, with some states -- including New Hampshire -- still uncertain when they will vote.

Currently, the Iowa caucuses are set for Jan. 14 and the Nevada caucuses for Jan. 19. The Democratic National Committee has recommended that New Hampshire hold its primary Jan. 22, and the South Carolina primary is scheduled for Jan. 29. But all of those dates are in flux.

The state Democratic parties in Michigan and Florida decided to flout DNC rules that allowed only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to hold a presidential primary or caucus before Feb. 5.

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Republicans are facing a similar revolt but none of the GOP candidates asked to be dropped from the Michigan ballot, said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Michigan secretary of state.

The DNC responded to the earlier primary dates by threatening to strip Michigan and Florida of their convention delegates. And most of the Democratic candidates signed a pledge promising to campaign only in the four DNC-sanctioned early contests. Florida’s primary is scheduled for Jan. 29.

On Tuesday, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson asked the Michigan secretary of state to drop their names from the ballot by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

The other four contenders -- front-runner Clinton, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska -- will be listed as candidates.

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Kucinich issued a statement late Tuesday saying that his campaign also requested to be dropped, but Chesney said the campaign failed to include a signed statement by Kucinich, so the affidavit was rejected.

It was unclear whether the four candidates who withdrew had coordinated their decisions in hopes that Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who take seriously their “first in the nation” nominating contests, would be influenced by Clinton’s remaining in the Michigan race. One campaign aide said representatives for Obama and Edwards arranged to arrive at the same time to file their affidavits.

Peverill Squire, a political analyst at the University of Iowa, doubted that such a strategy would sway many in Iowa.

“Most people don’t pay attention to what’s happening in Michigan and Florida,” Squire said. “You have to take good care of your scorecard to make sure you know who’s doing what, where. So I don’t think Iowans will be out to hold it against her if she’s on the [Michigan] ballot, particularly if she doesn’t campaign there.”

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Still, the Biden campaign was quick to make it an issue.

“The Dodd and Clinton campaigns have chosen to hedge their bets, thereby throwing this process into further disarray,” said Biden campaign manager Luis Navarro. “In doing so, they have abandoned Democrats in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

But Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said the campaign didn’t see the need for a formal withdrawal.

“Sen. Clinton took a signed pledge that she would not campaign or spend resources in any state that violates the DNC calendar . . . and she intends to honor that pledge,” Elleithee said.

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Dodd spokesman Hari Sevugan said the senator similarly would not campaign in Michigan but saw no point to dropping his name from the ballot.

For the Obama campaign, however, the withdrawal was a logical next step.

“This is an extension of the pledge we made based on the rules that the DNC laid out to protect the role of the early states in the nominating process,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “We still hope that Michigan Democrats adopt a process that meets DNC rules and, if so, look forward to fighting for the votes of men and women across the state.”

For Edwards, taking Michigan -- and Florida -- out of play meshes with the campaign’s strategy of trying to do well in the first four approved states, and hope for a surge going into Feb. 5 when at least 20 states, including California, are scheduled to vote.

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scott.martelle@latimes.com


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