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Democrats withdraw from Michigan 'beauty contest'

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  • NEW: Biden campaign accuses Clinton, Dodd of abandoning early state voters
  • Five Democrats withdraw from Michigan's January 15 primary
  • Sen. Clinton will not withdraw from Michigan primary, campaign says
  • Primary violated party rules barring primaries before February 5
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five Democratic presidential candidates Tuesday sought to officially withdraw from Michigan's January 15 primary, rendering the event virtually insignificant.

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Sen. Joe Biden's campaign calls the Michigan primary a "beauty contest."

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio all announced the move Tuesday, the deadline for filing such paperwork.

The feud between the Michigan Democratic Party and the DNC comes as the Republicans face off in a presidential debate in Dearborn, Michigan.

Under Democratic National Committee rules, only Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina are allowed to hold primaries before February 5.

But Michigan Democrats moved their state's primary date to January in an effort to increase the state's influence in the nominee selection process, arguing Iowa and New Hampshire unfairly dominate the process.

The five candidates, as well as Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, had already agreed not to campaign in Michigan and Florida, both of which bucked party rules by scheduling their nominating contests before February 5.

Biden's campaign called the Michigan primary a "beauty contest."

"Today's decision reaffirms our pledge to respect the primary calendar as established by the DNC and makes it clear that we will not play into the politics of money and Republican machinations that only serve to interfere with the primary calendar," said Biden campaign manager Luis Navarro.

"We're very disappointed and this is another example of why the monopoly that Iowa and New Hampshire have, needs to end," Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Jason Moon said.

Moon declined to speculate about whether the party will move the date of its primary or hold a caucus.

While Dodd's campaign is "committed to the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire going first," Dodd will not withdraw from the ballot, said Dodd's communications director Hari Sevugan.

"It does not benefit any of us, if we are the nominee, to pull our name off the ballot and slight Michigan voters," Sevugan said.

The Clinton campaign said she will not withdraw from the Michigan ballot because it is unnecessary to do so.

The Biden campaign criticized Clinton and Dodd for not taking their names off the ballot.

"The Dodd and Clinton campaigns have chosen to hedge their bets, thereby throwing this process into further disarray," Biden campaign manager Navarro said. "In doing so, they have abandoned Democrats in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina."

CNN's Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider suggested the Democrats who withdrew may have calculated that it was simply in their best political interest to do so.

"If there's no campaign, the candidate most likely to win Michigan is Hillary Clinton," Schneider said. "Her Democratic rivals don't want a Clinton victory in Michigan to count. They want Iowa and New Hampshire, where they have a better chance of stopping Clinton, to count more."

But Clinton may also benefit from staying and winning even a non-competitive primary, Schneider said.

"It will earn her a lot of good will in Michigan if the state schedules a later caucus to pick its delegates," he said.

The DNC voted to punish both Michigan and Florida by refusing to seat their delegates at next summer's Democratic National Convention.

In response, Florida Democrats last week filed a lawsuit against the DNC, asserting the national party's punishment is illegal because it denies Florida the right to help choose the Democratic nominee for President.

Candidates have until October 31 to withdraw from the Florida primary, Albert Martine, a spokesman for Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio, said.

Both Florida and Michigan could play critical roles in the next presidential election.

Florida proved its importance during the recount and the ensuing Supreme Court decision that decided the 2000 election.

And Michigan is a large state Democrats may need in the presidential election, but can't take for granted. Al Gore won the state by only five percentage points in 2000, and John Kerry took the state by only three points in the last election. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Alexander Mooney, Paul Steinhauser and Matt Hoye contributed to this report.

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