Hillary Clinton on the Florida Democrats delegate debacle
Times Political Editor Adam Smith sat down with Sen. Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. His question for her: What role do the candidates play in solving Florida's scramble to seat delegates at the national Democratic convention?
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Interview transcript
Q: There are a lot of anxious Democrats, a lot of angry Democrats in Florida. What do you say to them?

A: I say to them that their votes were counted by the secretary of state in Florida, and they have every right to expect they will send a full delegation to the Democratic convention. And we hope that the DNC and the state party and interested Floridians will come to some agreement to that effect.

Q: Why didn't you say that sooner? You weren't saying that before New Hampshire and South Carolina. It was right before the Florida vote that you started stressing the importance of Florida.

A: I was a little preoccupied [laughing]. I was trying to stay alive, frankly. But I think it's always been my hope and my expectation that we would be smart enough to figure out we don't want to alienate 1.75-million voters in Florida -- in fact the people whose votes we will need in the fall.

Q: Is there compromise? The Republicans in Florida, for instance, get half their delegation as punishment for violating the window. Bill Nelson, a big supporter of yours, is saying that ought to be the solution to this situation.

A: It's up to the DNC and the state party to make an appropriate resolution, and I don't think it's my place to dictate how it should be resolved, because there are very different opinions among the Florida delegation, among the activists in Florida. What I'm worried about is there seems to be a growing sense of rejection of the Democratic Party by the voters in Florida. I believe there have been some recent polls, there are rallies going on around Florida saying, "Count our votes." And I just don't believe we want to have the Democratic Party disenfranchise voters in Florida. We've been down that path it didn't work out so well for us. Therefore I'm continuing to advocate that the DNC recognize that Florida was beyond those early states. It didn't interfere with anybody having a chance to have their votes counted in those first four states. It was a level playing field. Everybody was on the ballot. And therefore we should honor the results of the election.

Q: Howard Dean and some other people are saying the two campaigns, the two candidates, need to come up with a deal, some amicable solution, and that's the way to get this situation resolved.

A: I think that unfortunately ignores the principal party, and that is the state party and the Democrats of Florida. I don't think it's up to Sen. Obama or me to dictate any resolution. I think it's up to the DNC to decide how to proceed, and I would hope that it would do so recognizing what's at stake. It would be tragic if we came out of this process ignoring the will of 1.7-million Floridians, setting us up for a very unhappy electorate in the fall, giving Republicans this incredible argument they could make against us. So I think it's up to the DNC and the state of Florida party taking into account the very real needs we have to be competitive in Florida.

Q: Do you regret signing the oath to the four states to not campaign in Florida?

A: But that had nothing to do what would happen to the votes. I agreed not to campaign, and I did not campaign. I didn't run any ads, I didn't ship in signs or literature. I abided by the rule and that was all I agreed to.

Q: But if you're a voter in Florida, that was seen as a slap in the face.

A: Apparently, voters didn't think so. When you look, we had more than a million people turned out than turned out previously. They followed it, they were avidly interested in it, and they wanted their votes to count. Otherwise, people would have just blown it off. That is not what happened. Florida voters understood that because of the way the process was set up, we were not going to campaign, but they followed the election and they certainly wanted to have their votes counted. And that's what I'm advocating -- count the votes of the people who showed up, took the trouble, made sure they participated in this exciting election.

Q: So when the Obama people say, "How can you count the votes? This wasn't a real election, it's not a real election when you're not campaigning ..."

A: Then why did he run a nationwide cable buy? Why did he up his buy in southern Georgia, because it went over the border? Why did he ship in yard signs and all the rest of it. He competed, come on. It was a real election in the minds of 1.7-million Democrats. They're not interested in the ins and the outs and the back and the forth. They came to vote. They were tired of being disenfranchised. They saw a Democrat deprived of a congressional seat in 2006 because mysteriously thousands of votes weren't counted. They saw problems in the '04 election, and everybody remembers 2000. So the voters, the Democrats in Florida, they could care less about all of this process stuff. They wanted to participate, and they did. And I think it is shortsighted and unfair for anybody on the outside to be pursuing a strategy that would disenfranchise Florida voters. And I am 100 percent committed to advocating on behalf of the rights of Florida voters, including those who didn't vote for me, to make that their votes lead to their delegates being seated in Denver.

Q: But if you're saying leave it in the hands of the DNC and the state party, if it's an acceptable solution to a state leader like Bill Nelson, are you comfortable with that -- half the delegation?

A: Well, there are a lot of other leaders who have different points of view. That's why there has to be some effort to resolve this. I have the greatest respect for Sen. Nelson. He's my friend, he's my colleague, my supporter. But I have a lot of other (supporters) in Florida, in Congress and elsewhere, who have a different point of view.

Q: Who has said that?

A: Well, the members of Congress are adamant that their votes be counted completely. And I know there's a challenge that's been brought by a DNC member and activist. So I think we've got to push the DNC to resolve this in a way that is good for the Democratic Party. And therefore I think that leads to the conclusion that you should count the votes within the Democratic Party's process of selecting delegates. Now those votes count. They're part of the popular vote. You can't erase them. They were certified. The secretary of state said they happened. 1.75-million people showed up. I believe that they were part of this primary election season. We just now have to make sure that the delegates that were elected by those voters get to sit in Denver and be part of the convention that gets to nominate the next president.

Q: A cynic would say if you're Hillary Clinton you're better off leaving this question, both Michigan and Florida, unresolved up until the convention. Because then you have superdelegates that might otherwise be saying, "Well, Obama's leading but I can't make a decision until Florida and Michigan are resolved."

A: I just met with a superdelegate from Pennsylvania. Among her questions were: When are we going to get Florida and Michigan resolved? Also, that cynicism is not supported by the facts. I and my campaign supported a revote in Michigan. The elected officials in Michigan were all united -- let's revote. The Democratic National Committee decided to support a revote. The only person who didn't want to let people vote was Sen. Obama. Don't ask me why because I don't understand that. Why would he stand in the way of letting the people in Michigan going to the time, trouble and expense of once again determining their votes? I don't think it is at all clear that he wouldn't have done better than he did last time. They had a full-fledged effort to get uncommitted. it wasn't like they didn't compete. They just competed under the name uncommitted. What was he afraid of? The cynical explanation is, no, Sen. Obama does not want people's votes to count. We're Democrats. I thought we believed in counting votes. And I even was willing to help raise the money, not that I would have any control over it, but tell my people to help raise the money so the people of Michigan wouldn't have to pay for a revote. The governor, senators, members of Congress, they all agreed no matter who they're supporting. But Sen. Obama, because there had to be a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature, sent word to his supporters block it, don't let it happen. Now that's cynical. I thought that was the height of cynicism.

Q: I don't want to belabor the point of you not being involved here, but maybe I will a little bit. Because Howard Dean has shown no ability to get this resolved, as we've seen. The Florida Democratic Party has tried various things that have not worked out. The people that could get this resolved best right now would seem to be you and Barack Obama.

A: Well, I just don't buy that. I think that the people whose votes were cast are the ones who should determine the outcome. They have to make their case and convince the Democratic Party, and I hope that we will proceed on that path.

Q: Do you think down the line, whether you're the next president or he (Obama) is the next president or John McCain's the next president, that we need a new system?

A: Yeah, I think that we might, but I don't know what it is.

Q: Regional (primaries)?

A: I don't know. I haven't even stopped to imagine what it might be. But look at the dilemma we're in. Two major states -- one of which we have to win, the other of which we have to try to win, both offensively and defensively because the Republicans can't win it if they don't win it, and we're a lock if we do win it -- why would we be doing this? It just doesn't make any sense to me at all. I don't know if you've talked to Carl Levin, who is a real student of the process and has incredibly strong feelings, that Michigan if we're not going to have a revote which he was in favor of, then Michigan under the rules has the right to have every single delegate fully seated. And that's not me talking, that's him. People have very strong feelings about this, Adam. This is not just something we can dismiss and say let's get in a back room and resolve it. This goes to the core of what the Democratic Party is and can we stand by and allow this disenfranchisement to go forward. I don't think it can.

Q: Are you confident Florida is winnable (after all this)?

A: Absolutely. If I'm the nominee it's winnable, because I think people in Florida know I've been fighting to get their votes counted. I went down to Florida to thank people for their support. I think I can put together a winning coalition in Florida, and I intend to do just that.

Q: Primaries vs. caucuses. Florida was a primary, and you've obviously done a lot better in primaries than caucuses. Are primaries a more legitimate test of a candidate's strength?

A: I believe that primaries are more representative. There's no doubt about that. If you look at the profile of a primary voter, it pretty much represents the entire population and the fact that you can file an absentee ballot, maybe vote early, that you can go all day to make sure that if you're working or have other obligations you're not going to be disenfranchised. I think that is a very telling difference.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong: You've said you're going to keep going until Florida and Michigan are resolved.

A: I have said that because I believe that the absence of a resolution of Florida and Michigan undermines the legitimacy of the nomination, and I don't think we want to take that risk

Q: That's a big word -- legitimacy -- in a Democratic race.

A: I've said it before, and I believe it.

Q: So he would be...

A: Obviously, I am running to be the nominee. But I am also running to make sure we have a Democrat in the White House, and this question about Florida and Michigan I have no doubt in my mind will influence the outcome in November if we do not it the right way. Why do we want handicap ourselves? I don't understand that. There are 10 more contests. We should resolve Florida and Michigan...

Q: And when he says the rules are the rules, we all knew what the rules were going in. Let's make sure Florida has a voice by going 50/50, and then they'll have a say in the nomination?

A: That in my view is disrespectful of the outcome of the vote. If nobody had voted in Florida, I mean nobody had showed up, they'd said this is not anything we're going to participate in, well then people might say, okay, we can figure out how to do this. But that's not what happened. You cannot ignore the reality of what happened. People obviously had strong feelings about us and wanted to participate. There are lots of arguments about rules that people are making, and I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of the rules, but people should be free to make those arguments, and then let's resolve this. We have a process for resolving it. But I don't think it's the place or the right of the campaigns, each of whom has a vested interest, and in my case I have a deep and abiding concern that we are handicapping ourselves in November if we do not resolve this and resolve it in the right way that respects the will of the voters in Florida.

Q: If we get to the convention and he's probably going to be ahead in pledged delegates, and lets say he's even ahead in the popular vote, but we get to the point after Pennsylvania and some other contests that the superdelegates do come to the conclusion that this is not the most electable choice, that you're the more electable candidate. Would that be devastating to the party for them, especially with the racial issues involved?

A: First of all, we don't know what's going to happen. We don't have any idea what's going to happen. We've got 40 states that have decided to participate. Let's see what happens and then we'll go from there.

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"It would be tragic if we came out of this process ignaoring the will of 1.7-million Floridians, setting us up for a very unhappy electorate in the fall, giving Republicans this incredible argument they could make against us," Clinton told the Times.

[Times audio: Adam Smith]
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