Michigan, Campaigns Talk Do-over Primary

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan Democrats are close to an agreement with presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to hold a do-over primary.

Party officials and the campaigns negotiated on Thursday, and state Democratic leaders were hopeful that an agreement could be reached on Friday, said Democratic officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. To go forward, any plan would require the approval of the two campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, state party leaders and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is backing Clinton.

Michigan Democrats need to act quickly because the politically divided legislature will have to sign off on the deal and approve how to spend the privately raised funds for a new election. Members of the Democratic-controlled state House and Republican-controlled state Senate leave at the end of the month on their two-week spring break.

The contest must be held by June 10 for the results to count under DNC rules. Michigan currently has an election set for May 6 for voters to decide on education issues. The date of that contest could be changed to accommodate a new presidential primary.

The Clinton campaign made it clear that it strongly prefers a state-run primary to mail-in voting during the meeting, according to a campaign official speaking anonymously about the private talks. People involved in the private meeting said the Clinton advisers favor the state-run primary because there would be less likelihood of problems such as fraud and ballot counting than with a mail-in vote.

The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates. The two states have been struggling to come up with alternative plans to ensure their delegates are seated at the national convention this summer in Denver.

Michigan held its primary Jan. 15 and Florida voted Jan. 29. Clinton won both, although she was the only major candidate on the Michigan ballot.

On Thursday, Florida Democrats proposed a vote-by-mail presidential primary while acknowledging the plan's chances are slim.

Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, offered a mail-in/in person proposal for voting and urged state leaders, the national party and the presidential candidates to sign on. Under the plan, all of Florida's 4.1 million Democrats would be mailed a ballot. They could send it back, or cast a ballot in one of 50 regional voting centers that would be set up. The election would end June 3, a week before a Democratic National Committee deadline to name delegates.

The estimated cost is $10 million to $12 million.

Asked if the plan will be implemented, Thurman said, "I have a feeling that this is probably closer to not, than yes."

Members of Florida's congressional delegation reiterated their opposition to the plan, saying, "We do not believe that this is a realistic option at this time and remain opposed to a mail-in ballot election or any new primary election in Florida of any kind."

Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, an Obama backer, said supporters of both candidates and those in the delegation who are uncommitted are working on an alternative to get the delegates seated. He said an option would be to find middle ground in the number of delegates that Obama and Clinton get.

Clinton has said the delegates should be awarded according to the results of Florida's Jan. 29 election, which she won. Some Obama supporters have suggested splitting the delegates evenly since the candidates agreed not to campaign in the state since it violated party rules by going too early.

"There's a high demand by one candidate and a low demand by the other, and somewhere in between is a resolution," Wexler said. "So that's what we're trying to figure out."

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida's senior Democrat and a Clinton backer, said one option that ought to be considered would be to award delegates based on the January vote, but have them count for half the delegates of other states.

However, Obama's campaign said they will not support any plan that allocates delegates based on the January vote.

Nelson said he discussed the issue with Obama and Clinton on the Senate floor Thursday.

"I've been saying, `You guys have got to get this thing resolved.' And they both have said to me that they intend to get the Michigan and Florida delegation seated at the convention," he said. "But the devil's in the details."

Thurman will review comments from Democratic leaders and make a decision by Monday on whether to continue with the re-vote. But she acknowledged that Obama has had concerns and the Democratic National Committee won't support a proposal unless both candidates also back it. She said there's a serious question over whether the state could legally verify the signatures of a privately run election.

"If this becomes something that we can't do, then we can't do it," Thurman said.

Florida's secretary of state's office said it could not assist with verifying the signatures on the ballot.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, however, has said he isn't opposed to the state helping verify signatures as long as no taxpayer money is spent and state and national parties haven't already worked out another solution.

Obama told reporters traveling on his campaign plane Thursday that although he has concerns about mail-in voting, "we're going to abide by whatever the DNC decides."

"We're not gonna make the final decision on it, and I'll abide by whatever rules the DNC lays out," he said.

Four Michigan Democratic leaders uncommitted to either candidate discussed options for a do-over Thursday with both the Clinton and Obama campaign leaders. Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Sen. Carl Levin and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger are in that group trying to develop a new plan with input from both sides.

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Associated Press Writers Nedra Pickler, Ken Thomas and Charles Babington in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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