Obama moves closer to win

Clinton gains minor as vote battle ends

Election 2008

June 01, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama moved a step closer to locking up the Democratic nomination last night after a party committee resolved a long-standing impasse over seating delegates from Florida and Michigan.

The action by a Democratic National Committee panel, after an often raucous daylong meeting at a Washington hotel, removed one of the last obstacles to concluding the longest, most expensive and closest primary season in decades.

Obama appears to be only a few days away from clinching the nomination, according to Democratic strategists, who expect him to secure enough superdelegates by the middle of this week to go over the top.

Hillary Clinton picked up an estimated 24 delegates as a result of yesterday's decisions, but her campaign had hoped for much more. Clinton finished first in both states, which had been stripped of convention delegates last year after they jumped ahead of other states and scheduled primaries this January in violation of party rules governing the election calendar.

The compromise that ended the long-running dispute was reached after several Clinton backers on the national committee abandoned their candidate's hard-line position and endorsed proposals from Michigan and Florida Democrats that had the support of the Obama campaign.

"We agreed to this with the hopes that this would help draw people together," said former Michigan Rep. David E. Bonior, who spoke on Obama's behalf at the meeting.

'Gall and chutzpah'

The resentment of die-hard Clinton backers, after nearly 24 hours of largely closed-door deliberations by members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, spilled out at the session in both the comments of Clinton supporters on the panel and outraged shouts from members of the audience.

Harold Ickes, a top Clinton campaign aide and longtime DNC member, said the effect of the national party's decision was to "hijack" the results of the non-binding Michigan primary vote.

Ickes announced that Clinton had authorized him to reserve her right to challenge the panel's action before the credentials committee of the national convention, though only Michigan Democrats would have standing to lodge a protest under party rules.

"I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," said Ickes, referring to the turnout for the non-binding Michigan primary.

Under terms of a compromise agreed to by Michigan Democrats and brought before the national committee, Obama was given 29.5 delegates, though he was one of several Democratic presidential candidates who removed their names from the Jan. 15 ballot. The panel also reduced by four delegates the number Clinton, who left her name on the ballot, had expected to receive.

Clinton supporters in the crowd broke into chants of "Denver, Denver," a sign of their desire to carry the rules fight to the convention in late August. But comments from Clinton's campaign and some of her supporters on the DNC suggested that she might not pursue the matter, once the passions of the primary season have cooled.

The panel also approved Florida's request to have its delegation restored at the national convention, netting Clinton 19 delegates more than Obama. But the Clinton camp's attempt to give her double that number was defeated, the first public indication that the panel had rejected her position and would side with Obama.

With the final elections of the five-month primary season taking place over the next three days, the general election campaign for the White House could begin in earnest as soon as midweek.

Obama plans to stage a victory rally Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the site of this summer's Republican National Convention, signaling his intention to shift his focus to the fall drive against likely Republican nominee John McCain.

Obama will still need about 25 or 30 additional superdelegate endorsements to reach his goal of becoming the first African-American nominee of a major party, after the results of the last primaries are factored in, according to estimates by his campaign and nonaligned Democrats. The rules committee action effectively moved the goal line in the nomination contest, increasing the number of delegates needed to win to 2,118 from 2,026.

The first scene of the primary season's final act played out yesterday during a tumultuous session of a normally obscure party committee, punctuated by frequent applause or jeers from Clinton or Obama backers.

Hundreds of Clinton supporters rallied outside in a last-ditch effort to sway the 28 officials working to resolve the Michigan and Florida disputes.

A handful of committee members who had not endorsed either candidate held the balance of power in the talks, though one of them tipped her hand relatively early in the day.

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