DNC’s Dean urges do-over contests in Florida, Michigan

Published 12:55 am Friday, March 7, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former head of the Democratic National Committee doubted Thursday whether chairman Howard Dean would be able to get approval for do-over presidential nomination contests in Florida and Michigan.

“It’ll be a hellacious battle,” said Don Fowler, a former DNC chairman who sits on the party’s rule-making committee.

Before the primaries started, “Howard Dean had enough votes to get most everything he wanted. Now that this thing has gone as far as it has and the lines have formed according to candidates, I’m not sure how that vote would shake out now,” said Fowler, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Nonetheless, Fowler said, something has to be done, “the rules be damned,” to seat delegates from states Democrats have to and can win in the general election. “We’re going to forfeit those two big states? What kind of fools would we be,” he said.

Officials in Michigan and Florida have shown renewed interest in holding repeat nominating contests, and Dean has urged party officials in both states to come up with plans for how that can be done so their delegates can be counted at the national convention in late August.

“All they have to do is come before us with rules that fit into what they agreed to a year and a half ago, and then they’ll be seated,” Dean said Thursday during interviews on network and cable TV news programs.

Dean said the parties will have to pay for new contests.

“We can’t afford to do that. That’s not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race,” he said. The DNC offered to pay for an alternative contest in Florida last summer but was turned down, officials at the party say.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, another of Clinton’s supporters, also called for a new Florida primary, but paid for by the national party. Nelson and Dean spoke by telephone Thursday evening and Dean reiterated that the DNC will not pay for a new primary.

Cost may be a barrier. During a meeting Wednesday night among House Democrats from Florida and Michigan, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida relayed estimates that another primary would cost the state between $22 million and $24 million, a vote-by-mail contest would cost at least $8 million and the bill for a caucus would be about $4 million, said Hastings spokesman David Goldenberg.

In Michigan, the cost could be as high as $10 million, depending on the type of contest, according to Democratic officials. Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said Thursday evening that nothing had been ruled out but it was beginning to appear as if the cost and logistics may be insurmountable.

Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he would sign a bill for a new Democratic primary — legislative approval is required — but only if it was a last resort and only if the national party pays for it. But that seems unlikely, given Dean’s insistence that he won’t pay.

Top officials in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and Florida’s state party chair all now say they would consider holding a sort of do-over contest by June. Officials in both states previously had insisted that the primaries held in January should determine how their delegates are allocated.

Clinton said she’d wait to see what proposals are put forward.

She won both contests, but no delegates. The results were meaningless since the elections violated national party rules. The DNC stripped both states of their delegates for holding the primaries too early, and all Democratic candidates — including Clinton and rival Barack Obama — agreed not to campaign in either state. Obama’s name wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot.

“I think it would be a grave disservice to the voters of Florida and Michigan to adopt any process that would disenfranchise anyone,” Clinton said at a news conference Thursday. “Therefore I am still committed to seating their delegations, and I know they are working with the Democratic Party to determine how best to proceed.”

She said it would be especially unfair to punish the 1.7 million Floridians who voted in the Democratic primary since the Republican-controlled Legislature and the state’s Republican governor changed the date.

“They clearly believed that their votes would count, and I think that there has to be a way to make them count,” Clinton said.

Obama said Thursday that the DNC should decide how to settle the dispute.

“I think it’s important to make sure that people of Michigan and Florida feel as if they’re part of this process and that they’re heard. And we’ve just decided that we’re going to play by whatever the rules the DNC has set forth,” he told ABC News. “That’s what we’ve done from the start.

“And I’ll leave it up to the Democratic National Committee to make a decision about how to resolve it. But I certainly want to make sure that we’ve got Michigan and Florida delegates at the convention in some fashion,” Obama said.

He said the DNC also should decide how to pay for any new contest.

Florida and Michigan moved up their contests to protest the party’s decision to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to go first, followed by South Carolina and Nevada.

“The rules were set a year and a half ago,” Dean said. “Florida and Michigan voted for them, then decided that they didn’t need to abide by the rules. Well, when you are in a contest you do need to abide by the rules. Everybody has to play by the rules out of respect for both campaigns and the other 48 states.”