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Groping for a fix to delegate limbo

Times Staff Writers

Eager to break an impasse over contested votes, prominent Democrats are floating possible solutions that include new presidential nominating contests in Florida and Michigan, and a compromise forged by a special committee of party elders.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois are locked in a tight race for the Democratic nomination in which Michigan and Florida could give either candidate a decisive boost. As it stands now, the Democratic Party has disqualified the results in those two states because they violated party rules by holding elections early in the campaign season.

Clinton won both states and wants the results added to her tally. Obama’s campaign argues that such a move would amount to changing the rules late in the game and would shatter the party.

One alternative mentioned now by the Florida Democratic Party is a vote-by-mail election. Under this scenario, ballots would be mailed to all of Florida’s approximately 4.7 million registered Democrats in May or June. The cost would be $4 million to $6 million, and the state party would want to be reimbursed, a party official said Thursday.

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The Florida Democratic Party would be open to accepting a “soft money” contribution from, say, a wealthy Democratic donor, labor union or other source to underwrite the cost, the official said. Also, Florida Democrats would want commitments from the Obama and Clinton camps that the two candidates would campaign in the state. State Chairwoman Karen L. Thurman issued a statement saying that the Florida Democratic Party was hashing out possibilities with representatives of the Clinton and Obama campaigns as well as the Democratic National Committee.

“We have discussed many things, ranging from the plans for the general election to a potential alternative primary,” Thurman said.

One possibility that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said he would not support is another full-scale primary underwritten by Florida taxpayers. A Crist spokesman said that the price tag would be $25 million and that the state would not be willing to pay it.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Thursday laying out another suggestion: Florida would conduct another primary, but the national party would underwrite the costs.

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As they bargain, officials are protecting the interests of their favorite candidates. Nelson has endorsed Clinton. In his letter, Nelson said he would support a new primary but not caucuses. Clinton tends to fare better in primaries than caucuses.

Dean said Thursday that he would like to see both Florida and Michigan hold new nominating contests. But he said the national party would not pick up the tab.

Each state has two options, Dean said: Come back to the Democratic National Committee with a new delegate selection plan that complies with party rules, or appeal to a 186-member credentials committee at the August convention to allow the Michigan and Florida delegates’ seating.

With no consensus in sight, some officials said it was time to convene a committee of party elders.

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Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) said that he was so worried about Democratic infighting over the election that he was urging Dean to appoint such a panel to recommend a strategy to resolve the disputes.

Members might include former President Carter and former Vice Presidents Walter F. Mondale and Al Gore.

Cleaver, a Clinton supporter, said it was important for the campaigns to “turn down the volume.”

“If we keep going the way we are, we might as well give the keys to the White House” to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, he said.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report.


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