WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton insists that counting Florida could still help her net the party's presidential nomination, but that net has developed some holes.
Sen. John Edwards' endorsement this week of Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination puts 13 Florida delegates in play, assuming the state's delegation is eventually seated at the party's convention.
If those delegates follow Edwards' lead and support Obama — and at least half already have decided to do so, according to a survey by the St. Petersburg Times — Clinton's margin over Obama would shrink by one-third, undermining one of her key arguments for remaining in the race.
Some Edwards delegates say their support will make it easier for Obama and Clinton, along with the state and national parties, to reach a compromise for seating Florida's delegates.
"If the delegate count is more balanced, I think you're going to find more acceptance from everyone," said E. Alan Brock, 27, of Wakulla County, an Edwards' delegate and president of the Florida Young Democrats.
Clinton won 105 Florida delegates in the Jan. 29 primary, compared to 67 for Obama and 13 for Edwards. But the Democratic National Committee ruled the election didn't count because Florida, like Michigan, held its primary earlier than rules allowed.
None of the candidates campaigned in Florida or Michigan, and only Clinton's name was on the ballot in Michigan.
Clinton wants to count the elections in both states, which would give her a boost in delegates as well as in overall votes. Obama has said he wants to seat the states' delegates at the party's convention in Denver, but says it would be unfair to fully acknowledge those primaries now.
"If Edwards' delegates throw our support to Obama the way Edwards did, then Sen. Obama is more likely to give us a nod," said Fred McDowell, 58, an Edwards delegate and chairman of the Lake County Democratic Executive Committee.
"When you add the 13 to what he's got, that brings him almost equal — she doesn't gain anything and he doesn't lose anything" by seating Florida.
It may not be necessary. The DNC's rules committee is scheduled to hear an appeal of the loss of Florida's delegates on May 31, and an Obama spokesman said he expects a compromise for seating Florida's delegates to emerge that day or shortly after.
Obama has 1,895 delegates to Clinton's 1,718, with 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination, according to the Associated Press. She's unlikely to catch him in the five remaining primaries and hopes to convince uncommitted superdelegates, the party leaders and elected officials who can support whomever they want, that she's more likely to beat John McCain.
Florida remains a big part of her case:
• Counting Michigan and Florida gives Clinton a slight edge in the popular vote tally, though that's a little imprecise because in caucus states a solid figure for voter turnout is hard to come by.
• A Democrat who can win Florida, a swing state, has a good chance of winning the presidency.
• Fully counting both states would increase the number of delegates needed to win to 2,210. That would buy her more time.
Obama's support among Edwards' delegates doesn't really change Clinton's calculations, but it does give Obama more leverage when it's time to decide how to allocate Florida's delegates.
"It's still making the math not in her favor," said Joseph Beuttenmuller, 32, an Edwards delegate from Lake Mary. "Maybe now it will settle things sooner."
Wes Allison can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 463-0577.