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No vote do-over in Florida

Times Staff Writer

Florida Democrats scrapped plans Monday to redo the state’s presidential primary, turning to national party leaders to find another way to resolve the political stalemate over the disputed January nominating contest.

The decision came as legislative leaders in Michigan, the other state whose presidential primary results remain in limbo, appeared to make progress in their efforts to schedule a new vote.

Developments in the two states occurred as pressure mounted on Democrats to overcome standoffs that could prolong the closely fought nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and damage the party’s prospects in the November election.

Democratic leaders last year decided to punish Michigan and Florida for scheduling their primaries earlier than the party permitted by stripping the two states of their delegates to August’s Democratic National Convention. The tightness of the Obama-Clinton race, however, has forced party officials to reconsider the sanctions and restore a role for Michigan and Florida in deciding the nomination.

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The interest in new votes emerged largely because neither Obama nor Clinton, the winner in both Michigan and Florida, officially campaigned in either state. In Michigan, Obama’s name didn’t appear on the ballot.

On Monday, however, Florida Democratic Party officials shot down an idea floated last week to put aside the state’s disputed Jan. 29 election and stage a privately financed, party-run vote that would have relied on mail-in balloting.

“Thousands of people responded. We spent the weekend reviewing your messages, and while your reasons vary widely, the consensus is clear: Florida doesn’t want to vote again,” the state’s Democratic Party chairwoman, Karen L. Thurman, said in a letter to party activists.

Some key Florida Democrats expressed hope that they still might be able to persuade Republican lawmakers to go along with a state-run election, but Thurman said the idea wouldn’t work even if the party paid.

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Instead, Florida’s Democratic leaders appear likely to appeal to the Democratic National Committee to seat the state’s delegation based on the Jan. 29 election, which Clinton won easily. As a compromise to satisfy critics of the early primary, some Democrats have proposed cutting the state’s 210 delegate total in half.

In her letter, Thurman said a solution would have to come from the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws panel, which is scheduled to meet next month.

Analysts said political concerns, along with likely lawsuits, would pressure the DNC to accept the state Democrats’ proposal or come up with another delegate-seating formula.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who backs Clinton, on Monday urged national party leaders to act to avoid a “political train wreck that could involve a floor fight at the convention over recognizing Florida’s delegates. That runs the risk of alienating a key battleground state in the run-up to the November elections.”

Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, largely agreed. She said the controversy already had dampened enthusiasm among Democrats, who turned out in record numbers in January.

Florida Democrats, she said, “are very frustrated because this was a year that they really felt that the sun was shining on them. They would not only win Florida for their presidential candidate but pick up some [state] legislative seats and congressional seats. They were just on cloud nine and now, all of a sudden, it’s like a storm cloud is over Florida.”

The plan for re-running the Florida vote ran into opposition from Florida’s congressional delegation and Republicans in the Legislature amid concerns about potential voter fraud.

The Obama campaign, which has expressed concern about the security of a quickly arranged mail-in vote, issued a noncommittal statement about the Florida news, saying that “we hope that all parties can agree on a fair seating of the Florida delegates.”

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But Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton, who trails Obama in delegates, said: “Today’s announcement brings us no closer to counting the votes of the nearly 1.7 million people who voted in January. We hope the Obama campaign shares our belief that Florida’s voters must be counted and cannot be disenfranchised.”

In Michigan, legislative leaders appeared to move closer to holding a new contest that would be held June 3. Lawmakers reviewed a measure that would set up a privately funded, state-administered primary.

To be adopted, however, the plan would require approval by the Michigan Legislature, the two campaigns, the DNC and Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, who backs Clinton.

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stuart.silverstein @latimes.com

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The Associated Press and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel contributed to this report.


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