Politics & Government

Fla. Dems consider options, knowing they can't help Clinton

WASHINGTON — Every time Hillary Clinton is on the ropes — as she was Wednesday after lackluster showings in Indiana and North Carolina — her fallback is always the same: Count Florida's and Michigan's votes.

But even her campaign acknowledges that squeezing all the votes out of Florida's Jan. 29 primary can't deliver her the Democratic nomination. And Florida Democrats in an appeal that the Democratic Party's rules committee will hear at the end of the month, are only asking for half.

''It's time to move on,'' said Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, the Democratic leader in the Florida House whose endorsement of Obama on Wednesday was the first by a Florida superdelegates to take sides since late February. ``I want to do anything I can to get people moving toward Obama and worrying about November. We've got to end this current race as quickly as possible.''

Other undecided elected officials and party leaders in Florida were in no rush to take sides. U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, who represents a conservative area in Florida's Panhandle, said he remains ''unpledged and uncommitted'' and plans to stay that way.

Though Clinton sounded conciliatory toward Obama in her nationally televised speech after Tuesday's primaries, she also made clear that she wasn't giving up her bids for Florida and Michigan. The national party isn't counting her victories in the states because they voted out of turn.

The national party is slated to reconsider counting the delegates from Florida and Michigan on May 31. But Clinton campaign officials acknowledged that the best possible outcome wouldn't close her 150-plus delegate gap with Obama.

Clinton would net 38 delegates if Florida got back its entire slate of 188 pledged delegates to the convention; the appeal to the national party asks for half, or 94.

Two of her national co-chairs in Florida, U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, called for Clinton to continue competing, though the prospects seem dim.

''I don't have any realistic belief that there's anything other than a steeper climb than there was yesterday. Do the math,'' Hastings said. "Anything, as you know in politics, is possible, but the probability is that it's unlikely she will be able to overcome the crush of the numbers.''

One of the campaign's top fundraisers in Florida, Chris Korge, said he expects the national party to seat the entire Florida delegation and half of the slate from Michigan, where Obama took his name off the ballot. But the Clinton campaign can't dangle those victories in front of undecided superdelegates until the states' appeals are heard at the end of the month, just three days before the last states vote, Korge said.

''By moving the decision back to May 31, Florida becomes irrelevant,'' he said.

The dispute could have been resolved sooner if Clinton had not been adamant about getting the lion's share of the delegates, said Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe. The Obama camp has suggested splitting the delegation in half, casting aside Clinton's edge in the primary's popular vote.

''Obviously, there's a lot of discussion about remedies in Florida and we've expressed openness to those,'' Plouffe said. ``I think the Clinton campaign has been less willing to consider anything other than full seating of the delegates, and so we're hopeful that dialogue will continue.''

The Obama campaign alerted the media Wednesday to new supporters in California and North Carolina but did not respond to Gelber's announcement in Florida, a state it has discounted since the national party ruled the state out of bounds last August.

Gelber, who is Jewish, could be a powerful ally for Obama, an antidote to his ex-pastor's criticism of Israel and the Internet-driven smear campaign that links him to Islamic terrorists. A new Gallup poll shows Obama handily beating McCain among Jewish voters nationally but not with as much support as Democratic nominee John Kerry got in 2004.

''Not a single fiber in my body worries that Sen. Obama will not cherish Israel with the same fervor I would expect of any American president,'' Gelber wrote on his blog. ``Anyone who says otherwise is simply trying to exploit passions for Israel for partisan gain -- and that is truly endangering to Israel.''

The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows McCain and Obama in a virtual tie in Florida, 44-43.

''Florida is the one state where we probably suffer the most from lack of campaign activity compared to the rest of the country, and yet it showed a dead heat with us and John McCain,'' Plouffe said. ``We believe Florida is going to be an enormously competitive state in the fall, and we're anxious once we get this nomination behind us to build a winning campaign in the state of Florida.''

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