WASHINGTON — Under fire for not resolving what to do about Florida's and Michigan's delegates to the Democratic National Convention, national party chief Howard Dean offered nervous Floridians a ray of hope Wednesday: Hotel rooms have been reserved in Denver for them.
But Dean, who met behind closed doors with Florida's Democratic congressional delegation and state party chief Karen Thurman, noted that the party's two warring presidential contenders still must reach a compromise before the state gets a role in picking the party's presidential nominee.
"It is our intention to do everything we can, and we believe we will absolutely seat the delegation from Florida at the convention,'' Dean said.
Michigan's congressional delegation hasn't met with Dean, but he said he was optimistic that its delegates, too, would be seated.
But, he added, it's "critical'' that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are "comfortable with the compromises that have to be worked out.''
Initial reaction from the candidates suggested that they aren't. With neither candidate yet able to claim enough delegates to lock up the nomination, both are leery of giving the other any advantage.
For months, Clinton has pushed to recognize the results of Florida's Jan. 29 and Michigan's Jan. 15 primaries, both of which she won. On Wednesday, her campaign said that a new poll that showed her doing better in Florida than Obama against Republican John McCain demonstrated the "urgent need for Democrats to get behind our effort to count Florida's voters and seat its delegation.''
A spokeswoman for Obama said the campaign was interested in a "fair and workable solution.''
Neither campaign had a representative at Wednesday's meeting with Dean, though all but three members of the nine-member Florida congressional delegation have endorsed candidates. Thurman said the party intended to use its "power'' with the congressional delegation and the candidates to push for a compromise.
"It's our hope that the candidates will join us in this effort, and without them an agreement is not possible,'' acknowledged Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who backs Clinton.
The meeting comes as Florida Democrats continue to search for a way to have the state's votes counted and delegates seated at the national convention. Michigan Democrats also are still looking for a solution after the state's legislature didn't support a proposal for a do-over primary.
The national party stripped both states of their delegates last summer for scheduling primaries earlier than party rules allowed.
All the Democratic candidates agreed that they wouldn't campaign in either states. In Michigan, most of the candidates, including Obama, weren't on the ballot.
Clinton has since argued that the January results should be recognized. Obama's campaign says that's unfair. Dean has been criticized for not moving more forcefully to resolve the issue.
Florida's Democrats in Congress, concerned that disaffected voters will cost the party in November, have been particularly adamant about the topic, and Wednesday's meeting with Dean was the result.
Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., said the Congress members had sought the meeting. "We pretty much had assurances all along, but this was an opportunity to bring us full circle with the DNC and the opportunity to say that Florida was going to be counted," he said.
The meeting included discussion of the November election, with Hastings noting that there was talk of "the correlation between quickly finding a solution to Florida's delegate solution and winning the state in November.''
Dean pledged to work with the campaigns and the delegation to forge a compromise, adding, "We are confident enough that we have reserved hotel rooms, in Denver, as far as I know.''
Klein said Dean and the lawmakers reviewed "multiple solutions and formulas.''
But Klein noted, "It's up to the two candidates to ultimately make a deal.''