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Florida, Michigan seek exit from Democratic penalty box

  • Story Highlights
  • Florida, Michigan leaders call on national party to seat states' delegations
  • Party stripped states of delegates after states moved up their primaries
  • Candidates agreed not to campaign there; Obama wasn't on Michigan ballot
  • Howard Dean: Michigan, Florida knew the rules
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From John Zarrella and Patrick Oppmann
CNN
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Will the recount state become the re-primary state? Will voters in Michigan have their say in picking a Democratic candidate for president?

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Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, shown in 2006, called for her state's delegates to be seated.

Political leaders in Florida and Michigan are talking about making sure voters in their states are included when it comes to choosing the Democratic nominee.

The discussions are unfolding amid a grueling, delegate-by-delegate fight between Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

The national Democratic Party stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates to the national convention after the states moved up the dates of their primary elections.

That means votes that were cast in primaries in those states will not translate into delegates awarded to one candidate or the other in the contest for the Democratic nomination for president. Video Watch Florida's mounting frustration »

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said the states can either come up with a new plan to choose a slate of delegates or appeal to the party's credentials committee when the convention opens in August.

"The rules were set a year and a half ago. Florida and Michigan voted for them and then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. When you're in a contest you do need to abide by the rules," he said Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."

The national Democratic Party stripped Florida -- epicenter of the 2000 election debacle -- of its 210 national convention delegates as punishment for the state's decision to move its party primaries to January 29.

Michigan received the same treatment after moving its primary date to January as well, losing its 156 convention delegates.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, called on the Democratic National Committee to seat their states' delegations. They accused the party in a statement of silencing "the voices of 5,163,271 Americans" who voted in their primaries.

"It is intolerable that the national political parties have denied the citizens of Michigan and Florida their votes and voices at their respective national conventions," they wrote.

Speaking on CNN's "American Morning," Crist -- who signed the bill that changed Florida's primary date -- pointed fingers outside the state.

"People should be heard and not party bosses in Washington," he said. "This is about common sense and people having the right to vote. It is unconscionable that people's votes will not count. They should count."

Wednesday night in Washington, Democratic House members from Florida and Michigan met for about an hour to talk about possibilities that would lead to delegations from those states influencing the outcome of the Democratic nominating contest.

"Both delegations feel very, very strongly -- adamantly -- that our delegations be seated at the national conventions," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida.

Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan said he's not sure of the best way to resolve the dispute but that voters from Florida and Michigan should have their voters counted.

"I think the key is the voice of Michigan and Florida is heard and there's a procedure that is fair to the residents and fair to the two candidates," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan suggested Wednesday that his state could hold caucuses to select its delegates.

Participants declined to say whether there is general agreement on a way forward -- for example, whether the two states should redo the votes there or use results from the previous primaries. They pledged to continue discussions, though no formal meeting has been scheduled.

The national Republican Party also penalized Florida and Michigan, but cut each state's allocation in half rather than stripping them entirely. Because Arizona Sen. John McCain clinched the GOP nomination Tuesday night, any fight over seating Florida and Michigan's delegates will matter little to the GOP race.

Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, was the only leading Democrat to appear on ballots in Michigan and made a handful of allowed fund-raising appearances in Florida in the last days before the vote, while other candidates skipped the state. She won both contests.

Now, as she trails Obama by 100-plus delegates, Clinton has called for the Michigan and Florida delegations to be seated at the party's convention in Denver, Colorado.

The Democrats' next big primary is seven weeks away in Pennsylvania, where 158 delegates are at stake. Adding new contests to the mix could prolong the Democrats' heated battle for the nomination while giving McCain more freedom to focus on November's general election.

Crist told CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday that he supported holding another primary to resolve the dispute. But Wednesday, he said the state would not pay for a second contest.

The Florida Democratic Party estimates that a new primary could cost as much as $18 million -- and Sen. Bill Nelson said the DNC should pick up the tab.

"There's no way the state legislature is going to fund another election when they are in economic cardiac arrest right now," said Nelson, a Florida Democrat. "They are cutting payments to health care, education, social services and payments to the cities and counties.

"There's no way that they're going find an additional $18 million to fund another election, nor should they. This shouldn't be the burden of the taxpayers of Florida -- this should be the burden of the Democratic National Committee."

Party officials have said they will not pay for Florida to hold a new primary because they warned the state not to move up its primary.

"The Democratic nominee will be determined in accordance with party rules," Dean said. But he emphasized that his goal was to maintain party unity, and called the statement by Crist and Granholm "good news."

"We look forward to receiving their proposals, should they decide to submit new delegate selection plans, and will review those plans at that time," he said.

But Nelson said the party's stance was unfair, since it was Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee and a Republican governor, Crist, who decided to move up the state's primary over the opposition of Democrats.

If the state's decision to move the primary remains controversial, it pales in comparison to a bill two Florida state senators are discussing. Sen. Nan Rich, a Clinton backer, is proposing that the state remove the party's eventual presidential nominee from the state's ballot unless it seats Florida's delegates.

"That's one option," Rich said.

Legal scholars say they doubt removing the Democratic or Republican nominee's name from the ballot would be constitutional. But state Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller said he had been approached by Republicans promoting the bill.

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Geller said it is a sign of how bitter the fight over the delegates has become and how deep the self-inflicted wounds are among Democrats, calling it "a typical Democratic firing squad."

"We're lining up in a circle," he said. "Maybe we're aiming low and shooting ourselves in the feet instead, but this makes no sense to me." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ted Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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