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Primary revote unlikely

Michigan lawmakers can't agree on election details. Clinton's camp accuses Obama of blocking the proposal.

March 19, 2008|Michael Finnegan and Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writers

A push for a new Democratic presidential primary in Michigan appeared near collapse Tuesday as state lawmakers squabbled over details on how to hold such an election.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has urged state lawmakers to approve the revote as part of her battle to catch up to Barack Obama in the race for delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August.

On Tuesday, Clinton advisors accused Obama of blocking the proposal for a June 3 contest that would replace the results of Michigan's Jan. 15 primary.

"Sen. Obama and his campaign are dragging their feet," said Harold Ickes, a senior Clinton advisor.

The Democratic National Committee stripped Michigan of its 156 delegates because the state held its primary earlier than allowed by the DNC.

As a result, Obama and every other major candidate -- except for Clinton -- declined to put their names on the ballot. Clinton won 55% of the vote, with 40% opting for "uncommitted."

Ickes questioned Obama's resistance to a rerun, calling it "a very, very shortsighted tactic." If their delegates are uncounted at the convention, he said, Michigan voters could desert Democrats in November.

"It will give the Republicans an opening," Ickes said, noting Michigan's vital role in any Democratic map for a White House victory in the general election. Clinton plans to campaign today in Detroit.

The proposal for a June 3 primary faces a Thursday deadline for approval by Michigan's Legislature, but Republican lawmakers and Obama supporters have raised a variety of concerns.

Among them was a plan for the state to accept at least $12 million in private contributions to pay for the election.

"It's almost like selling the naming rights to an election," said state Sen. Buzz Thomas, a co-chair of Obama's Michigan campaign.

Also problematic for Obama's team is a provision that would bar voters who cast ballots in January's Republican primary from participating in the new Democratic contest. This would likely keep many potential Obama voters from casting ballots in June.

"We understand that when it comes to counting votes, the Clinton campaign favors whatever they think will benefit them," Obama's campaign said Tuesday in a written statement. "But on a day when Michigan legislators themselves have indicated that there isn't enough legislative support for a revote -- and when Sen. Clinton's own Michigan co-chair said that a revote 'wouldn't make much difference' -- it doesn't make any sense for them to point fingers at our campaign."

State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, a Clinton supporter, told a Lansing political tip sheet after a legislative caucus that the plan for a Michigan revote was "on life support."

A political blog, Talking Points Memo, quoted Clinton's Michigan co-chair, former Gov. James J. Blanchard, as saying that a new vote in Michigan could be so close that "the amount of delegates wouldn't make much difference."

The latest dust-up over the Michigan vote came a day after Florida Democrats ditched their efforts to hold a new primary. Like Michigan, Florida lost its delegates to the national convention because it held its primary earlier than allowed by party rules.

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michael.finnegan @latimes.com

noam.levey@latimes.com

Finnegan reported from Los Angeles, Levey from Washington.

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