Hillary Clinton, fair-weather friend to Michigan and Florida.

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April 14 2008 3:33 PM

Fair-Weather Wolverine

Hillary Clinton wants to seat Michigan and Florida delegates. She sang a different tune last year.

Hillary Clinton in Florida. Click image to expand.
Hillary Clinton in Florida

Scarcely a day goes by without Hillary Clinton exhorting fellow Democrats to count every vote—most particularly those cast in the disputed early primaries of Florida and Michigan, which she won. "I don't understand how you can disenfranchise voters in two states you have to try to win" in the general election, she said in Pennsylvania last week. "I don't think that is smart for the Democratic Party." Clinton, of course, has a strategic need to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, who were denied entry to the nominating convention late last year by the Democratic National Committee after the two states scheduled their primaries earlier than the DNC wished. She needs these delegates to help close her gap with the front-runner, Barack Obama.

It was a different story in October. Back then, Clinton was far and away the national front-runner—by some 20 points in a number of polls. With much less at stake in the matter, she told a New Hampshire public-radio audience, "It's clear, this election [Michigan is] having is not going to count for anything." Clinton was unwilling to take her name off the Michigan primary ballot, as Obama and her other significant rivals did, but like them she agreed not to campaign in Michigan or in Florida before their primaries.

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On Aug. 25, when the DNC's rules panel declared Florida's primary date out of order, it agreed by a near-unanimous majority to exceed the 50 percent penalty called for under party rules. Instead, the group stripped Florida of all 210 delegates to underscore its displeasure with Florida's defiance and to discourage other states from following suit. In doing so, the DNC essentially committed itself, for fairness' sake, to strip the similarly defiant Michigan of all 156 of its delegates three months later. Clinton held tremendous potential leverage over this decision, and not only because she was then widely judged the likely nominee. Of the committee's 30 members, a near-majority of 12 were Clinton supporters. All of them—most notably strategist Harold Ickes—voted for Florida's full disenfranchisement. (The only dissenting vote was cast by a Tallahassee, Fla., city commissioner who supported Obama.)

Six days later, when the party chairs in the DNC-approved "early" primary states urged Democratic candidates to sign a "four-state pledge" promising not to campaign in any state that violated the DNC calendar, Clinton did not object. She waited, with characteristic prudence, until the other candidates had signed, then signed herself. On Sept. 1, the Clinton campaign issued this ringing statement:

We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process. And we believe the DNC's rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role. Thus, we will be signing the pledge to adhere to the DNC approved nominating calendar.

Some argue that Hillary had little choice. "She was forced to sign away Florida because her opponents would have used it against her in New Hampshire and Iowa," says Chris Korge, Clinton's Florida finance chair. But even with Michigan and Florida cutting in line, Iowa and New Hampshire still ended up holding their caucus and primary first. Would voters in the latter two states—as opposed to Democratic Party officials—really have cared about how much later Florida and Michigan voted?