Prominent Barack Obama supporters are considering compromise plans to ensure Florida Democrats have a voice in the presidential nomination, even leaving open the door for Hillary Rodham Clinton to win more delegates out of Florida than Obama.
Obama allies had long suggested the best Clinton could hope for was a deal to evenly divide Florida's delegates to the nominating convention. Now, though, Sen. Bill Nelson and key players in Congress and on the Democratic National Committee are raising the possibility of allocating a portion of Florida's delegates based on the results of Florida's Jan. 29 primary, which could shrink Obama's overall delegate lead to anywhere from a handful to roughly 20 delegates.
"Florida can be in play in November, and we need to get this situation resolved," said Allan Katz of Tallahassee, an Obama supporter, superdelegate and DNC member. "If the Obama campaign is willing to make a small concession in order to get (Florida represented), it's not my decision to make, but it's something I would probably encourage."
Neither campaign has officially embraced the idea, and Obama supporters on Friday were skeptical the Clinton campaign wants to resolve Florida's Democratic primary problem. But the idea could provide a path to ending the dilemma before the national convention in August.
The talks are occurring mostly among Democrats in Florida's congressional delegation.
Among the proposals being discussed: Florida's 185 pledged delegates would be seated, but each would be given just half a vote. Nelson talked about that with DNC chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday, and on Thursday discussed the idea directly with Clinton and Obama on the Senate floor, but they were noncommittal.
The votes would be distributed based on the Jan. 29 election, which would give Clinton a gain of 18 or 19 delegates — not enough to significantly erode Obama's lead in delegates.
Both candidates also would have a chance to pick up half of the 13 delegates won by former candidate John Edwards, assuming he releases them.
Other permutations include divvying up a smaller portion of Florida's delegates based on the Jan. 29 vote. For instance, 15 percent of the state's 185 pledged delegates could be divided up based on Jan. 29 results and the rest divided evenly. Or the 185 pledged delegates could be divided 50-50 and the superdelegates could do as they pleased, which might net Clinton three or four delegates.
"The level that people are talking about isn't a concrete thing, or 'you take 12, I take four,' " said Clay Phillips, chief of staff to Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, an Obama supporter. "We're trying to figure out how we get people to talk."
It is unclear exactly what Obama would support, but Phillips and other Florida congressional aides say they have talked with his campaign officials and he is open to discussion.
To date, Obama has insisted the Jan. 29 results can't have any bearing because the vote was pronounced meaningless beforehand and the candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida. The Clinton campaign maintains the vote should count or another election should be held. A compromise on delegates now might blunt her ability to tout winning the popular vote in January.
The nine Florida Democrats in the U.S. House, who all serve as superdelegates, have ruled out holding a new election of any kind, on grounds it may create more trouble than it solves.
"They all think the best thing would be to negotiate a settlement that would seat Florida's delegates in full based on some portion reflecting the Jan. 29 vote," said Eric Johnson, chief of staff to Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, an Obama supporter who is active in the negotiations. "Something between the Hillary strident position and the Obama strident position, some sort of compromise."
As it stands, Obama has a nearly 704,000 lead in the popular vote, according to RealClearPolitics.com, but that drops to about 409,000 with Florida added in.
But Clinton risks looking like more of an obstacle to Florida having a voice in the nomination if her campaign rules out any compromise.
"It's very difficult to negotiate with people who don't want to negotiate," said Katz, noting the whole issue could be resolved quickly by the DNC's rules and bylaws committee.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Adam C. Smith can be reached