‘Seat our delegates,’ Florida’s Crist, Michigan’s Granholm tell Democrats, GOP

Mar 6, 2008

Orlando Sentinel–Mar. 6, 2008
Tamara Lytle and John Kennedy
Sentinel Staff Writers

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan on Wednesday called their parties’ decision to penalize their states’ presidential delegates “reprehensible” and said something must be done to give them a voice at this summer’s nominating conventions.

The reaction: a collective shrug of the shoulders.

“It’s done,” said Jon Ausman, a Leon County Democratic official, of his party’s refusal to seat 210 convention delegates. “We’re either going to sink or swim with what we have.”

The dispute over what to do about Florida’s Democratic delegates — and the 57 Republicans denied seats at that party’s convention — ratcheted up again Wednesday in the wake of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s defeat of Sen. Barack Obama in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Her victories almost assured that neither Democrat would go into the party’s August convention with the 2,025 delegates needed to win.

According to The Associated Press, Obama leads Clinton in delegates 1,562 to 1,461.

Florida’s decision to hold a primary Jan. 29 — a week before national-party rules allowed — prompted the penalties, with Republicans losing half their delegates and Democrats all 210. The same thing happened in Michigan.

Clinton won both states, though hers was the only name on the Democratic ballot in Michigan. That means that allocating delegates there would be difficult because voters had no chance to vote for Obama.

But in Florida, Clinton beat him by about 17 percentage points, which would have netted her a 38 delegate edge. The state also has 26 superdelegates, most of whom are uncommitted.

Crist and Granholm joined in a strongly worded statement Wednesday that began: “Seat our delegates.”

“It is reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence the voices of 5,163,271 Americans,” they wrote, calling the parties’ penalties “intolerable.”

Under party rules, Florida Democrats can appeal to the convention’s credentials committee to be seated or hold a new contest — such as another primary, a caucus or a mail-in ballot — by June 10, the party’s deadline for holding nominating contests. Crist has said he would support another vote, but neither the state nor the Democratic National Committee has offered to pay the estimated $4 million tab.

Dean: ‘Follow the rules’

DNC Chairman Howard Dean hailed the statement as “good news.” But he said it was up to each state to deal with the penalties. “As we’ve said all along, we strongly encourage the Michigan and Florida state parties to follow the rules,” he said.

A DNC staffer who would not be identified said the party had offered before Jan. 29 to help pay for a later contest. But that offer is no longer on the table. “They understand what their choices are,” the aide said.

State Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-DeLand, a would-be superdelegate, criticized Crist for not providing funding for a new election.

“Without some answers to some very serious questions, I do have a problem with the statement,” she said.

Kirk Wagar, Obama’s Florida finance chairman, said a do-over would likely accomplish nothing. Though Clinton won 50 percent of the Jan. 29 vote — beating Obama by 17 percentage points — Wagar said a second contest would likely be tighter. The result could be the candidates dividing the state’s delegates almost equally — effectively doing nothing to decide the nomination contest.

No ‘do-over’

“No one is talking realistically about holding a do-over,” Wagar said.

State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, a Clinton supporter, said one idea kicking around the capitol is forcing the national parties’ hands by passing legislation requiring each to recognize Florida’s delegates or see their presidential candidate kept off the November ballot.

In a news release, Democratic state Chairwoman Karen Thurman took a hard line.

“No suggested alternative process has been able to meet three specific and necessary requirements: the full participation from both candidates, a guaranteed commitment of the millions of dollars it will cost to conduct the event and a detailed election plan that would enfranchise all Florida Democrats, including our military service members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” she said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, won the Florida primary, so Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said he’s optimistic that the party convention will seat all of the state’s delegates.

Democrats such as Cusack worry that the protracted battle over Florida delegates and the nomination could hurt their nominee’s chances in November.

“We’re close to having what you call a split party,” she said. “You could open the doorway for a Republican to be elected.”