Three days before voting ends in the Democratic presidential primary, national party officials will consider restoring Florida's voice in the nomination.
The Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee — the same party leaders that last August voted to strip away all of Florida's 211 delegates to the national convention — announced Friday that on May 31 it will consider formal challenges to that decision from Michigan and Florida. The outcome could trim Barack Obama's delegate lead and put to rest major Democratic controversies in two critical battleground states.
Jon Ausman, the DNC member from Tallahassee who filed the challenges, said he is confident the 30-member committee can be persuaded to restore at least 117 of Florida's delegates.
But another Tallahassee DNC member who sits on that rules and bylaws committee, Allan Katz, predicted no delegates would be reinstated unless Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton agree on a compromise.
"Nothing's changed, except there's a meeting scheduled,'' said Katz, a member of Obama's national finance team. "And nothing will change until the campaigns work something out."
That's what DNC chairman Howard Dean has suggested, but compromise looks unlikely. Obama says the delegates should be split 50/50, while Clinton says Florida's Jan. 29 vote should count, giving her 38 delegates.
"It would work more easily if there was consensus but the reality is one presidential candidate is trying to protect the lead and one is trying to diminish the lead, so that's just not realistic,'' said Ausman, who is uncommitted.
The rules and bylaws committee took away all the Michigan and Florida delegates as punishment for holding primaries earlier than allowed under DNC rules. At the time, most assumed the nomination would be wrapped up by mid February and the nominee would ultimately restore those delegates.
Ausman's challenges contend the DNC's charter requires members of Congress and DNC members to be delegates, so the committee had no authority to strip away Florida's superdelegates. His second appeal contends the penalty was too severe and that only half of Florida's delegates should have been taken away.
A DNC member in Michigan filed similar challenges. Some Florida Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson, have complained about the DNC stalling.
"They're just slow-walking this thing, they're dragging it out,'' Nelson said earlier this week. "There's been no leadership to try to resolve this issue going back to last August, and as a result we are where we are, so nothing's going to be done until basically you have a winner."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8241.