Politics & Government

Amid division, Fla. Dems to decide today on re-vote plan

WASHINGTON — As the Florida Democratic Party gets ready to decide Monday whether to pull the plug on a long-shot bid to re-stage the state's presidential primary by mail, it faces a larger question: Is there a Plan B?

Democrats say there are a few options — and none that the state party controls — to give the state's voters a voice in picking the Democratic presidential nominee. Most of those have as many political flaws as the technical hurdles involved in mailing ballots to the state's 4.1 million Democrats.

Democrats are hoping for a negotiated settlement between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But with both candidates casting for every delegate, neither is likely to accept a compromise that would give a rival an edge.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Clinton ally who backs voting by mail but acknowledges its lack of popularity, has floated a second compromise: Strip Florida of half its delegates and assign the remaining ones to the two candidates based on the Jan. 29 presidential primary, which favored Clinton. A spokesman for Nelson said the idea has morphed into giving each of Florida's delegates a half vote.

But over the weekend Clinton's campaign tossed cold water on the proposal, which would cut her delegate haul in half.

''The 2.5 million people [in Michigan and Florida] who voted deserve to be counted,'' Clinton said Saturday, signaling her support for a re-do in Michigan, which like Florida violated national party rules by holding an early primary. ``If it were my preference, we'd count their votes, but if not, then they should have the opportunity to have a full-fledged primary waged for them and revote.''

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer has told reporters that the campaign believes in the ''bedrock principle'' of one person, one vote.

''There's a solemn obligation on all the people involved in this process . . . to ensure that the votes that have been cast are counted and the people who participated are allowed to have their voices heard,'' Singer said.

The state party last week issued a call for a party-financed vote-by-mail do-over, but it failed to gain much traction. State party Chairwoman Karen Thurman is likely to jettison the proposal on Monday, leaving state Democrats casting for alternatives even as Michigan appears to be moving ahead with plans for a June 3 traditional-style primary.

Florida, though, has already ruled out a statewide, go-to-the-polls revote as too costly.

As Clinton's camp calls for counting the January results, Obama's campaign has rejected them, arguing that the contests in Florida and Michigan were invalid because both candidates had agreed not to campaign in the two renegade states. Obama's name wasn't even on the Michigan ballot.

''The rules are the rules. Michigan and Florida both knew they wouldn't be seated if they moved their primaries up,'' former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, an Obama supporter, said Sunday on Meet the Press.

''If we want to make sure that Michigan and Florida are seated,'' he added, ''make it a 50/50 division'' of delegates.

Several members of Congress have suggested other formulas, using the results of the January primary to apportion delegates.

Allan Katz, an Obama supporter and Tallahassee attorney, said there could be support for ''some iteration of a 50-50 split'' in which Clinton could end up with an edge of superdelegates.

''The two campaigns have to figure out what they can live with,'' Katz said.

Several of Clinton's top donors in Florida are using their purse strings to pressure Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to mediate the dispute. Several have threatened to withhold contributions to the DNC unless it agrees to acknowledge the results of the Jan. 29 primary or schedule new elections.

'I told [Dean] `If my vote doesn't count and my state doesn't count, then my money's not going to count,' '' Clinton donor Ira Leesfield said Sunday, referring to a recent conversation he had with the DNC chairman. ``We've told him he's got to grab the bull by the horns and either have a revote or recognize the election.''

Dean, though, has repeatedly ruled out recognizing the January results, saying he doesn't want to change the rules in the middle of the campaign.

The state party could also choose to make its case to the DNC's credentials committee, which will meet before the August nominating convention.

Dean last week seemed to caution against waiting until the summer, noting in televised interviews that the candidate ``who has the most delegates will have an edge in the credentials committee. And whether they seat them or not is their business.''

Other options: Democratic National Committee member Jon Ausman has filed a separate appeal to the DNC's rules and bylaws committee, saying the DNC doesn't have the authority to bar the state's superdelegates and asking the committee to ease its punishment by restoring at least half of the state's delegates.