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Accepting Fla. vote could boost Obama

Here's a way for Barack Obama to nudge Hillary Rodham Clinton out of the race: Step up and join her call to count the votes of 1.75-million Florida Democrats.

No, the all but inevitable Democratic nominee is not obligated to recognize Florida's disputed Jan. 29 primary. Nor does he need to buy into Clinton's suspect argument that Florida deserves 100 percent of its delegates at the national convention.

But if Obama wants to eliminate one of Clinton's last rationales for staying in the race, and if he wants to curb the considerable skepticism about his interest and ability to compete in America's biggest battleground state, he should start mending Sunshine State fences and speak out about counting Florida's votes.

"That could potentially open the floodgates for superdelegates to come on board if he was that gracious and that comfortable in his inevitability to win the nomination,'' said Bob Buckhorn, a Democratic consultant in Tampa who backs Clinton. "It would go a long way to ease the anger that remains over Florida's votes not counting."

After Tuesday's huge win in North Carolina and narrow loss in Indiana, there's no longer any real risk for Obama in letting Clinton pick up a decent number of delegates in the state she won by 17 percentage points.

For weeks, at least twice as many superdelegates have been moving to Obama as to Clinton, and even under the best-case scenario she can't catch Obama in elected delegates.

"If Michigan and Florida are seated fully we estimate we would pick up 58 delegates, putting us within a margin of less than 100 total delegates separating Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton," Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer told reporters Wednesday.

That's still well behind, and no objective observer thinks Michigan and Florida will be fully counted. When 48 other states abided by the party rules against holding primaries too early, why would the Democratic National Committee allow Florida and Michigan to avoid any penalty at all for jumping in line?

A DNC rules panel is scheduled to hear appeals May 31 that, at best, are likely to cut Florida's and Michigan's pledged delegate totals in half. Depending on what arcane formula is used for Florida, Clinton could wind up with either six delegates, 19 delegates or something in between.

"When all the smoke clears, probably it will be high single digits or low double digits,'' said Allan Katz of Tallahassee, an Obama fundraiser and DNC rules committee member.

Surely Obama can spare 19 delegates in the name of goodwill in Florida. We're talking 27 electoral votes, after all. For a candidate who has repeatedly dismissed the votes of 1.75-million Florida Democrats and keeps struggling to win over Jewish voters, Hispanic voters and seniors, he'll need all the help he can get here.

"Florida is the one state where we probably suffer the most from lack of campaign activity compared to the rest of the country and yet (a Quinnipiac University poll last week showed) a dead heat with us and John McCain,'' Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Wednesday.

"We believe Florida is going to be an enormously competitive state in the fall, and we're anxious once we get this nomination behind us to build a winning campaign in the state of Florida," said Plouffe, who has also repeatedly dismissed the significance of Florida's Jan. 29 vote.

The fact is that contest, officially meaningless or not, was a fair election — not like Michigan where Obama's name wasn't on the ballot. Sure he would have done better if he had campaigned in Florida, but he chose not to.

Florida Democrats were paying close attention to the race, they turned out in record numbers and, according to a St. Petersburg Times poll, mainly to vote for president. Obama risks alienating voters he will need if he continues to discount that vote.

Clinton, of course, is not so pure on this count-the-votes business.

She signed a pledge to boycott Florida's primary and never fussed about counting the votes until it became clear her candidacy was not inevitable. Her campaign has done zip to help reach a compromise.

"We have been now for over a month trying to engage in coming up with what would be a fair solution, but there just hasn't been the willingness on the part of the Clinton camp to get this behind us,'' said Frank Sanchez, a top Obama fundraiser and adviser from Tampa.

But Obama's in the driver's seat now, and the nomination no longer hangs in the balance. If he came out and endorsed a reasonable solution that recognizes Clinton handily won Florida on Jan. 29, the DNC rules committee would find a way to get Florida resolved on May 31.

Ironically, the weaker the count-every-Florida-vote candidate looks, the easier it will be to get Florida's votes counted.

"I don't know how long it will take for the Clinton campaign to sink in that it's over, but once it has, there will be a deal," said Katz.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

Accepting Fla. vote could boost Obama 05/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 10:34am]

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