Dean: Bring me vote plan

Florida and Michigan must submit a primary fix, the Democratic Party leader says.

By Wes Allison, Times Staff Writer
Published March 10, 2008

WASHINGTON - Despite pressure from Florida Democratic leaders to leap into action, national party chairman Howard Dean said Sunday he won't get involved in making Florida and Michigan Democrats count in the presidential nominating convention until the states bring him their plans.

The impasse over Florida and Michigan, which lost their convention delegates for holding their primaries earlier than Democratic rules allowed, dominated the Sunday talk shows, but there remains no consensus about what to do about it.

Dean said a plan being pushed by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to hold a state-run Democratic primary by mail could work, but the candidates are ambivalent or disengaged, and Florida's congressional delegation is split on what to do.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who backs candidate Barack Obama, said Sunday that she doubts a new vote is possible. And support for a new mail-in primary is soft among Gov. Charlie Crist and other Republicans who control state government and whose approval would be necessary.

Appearing on ABC's This Week, Crist also made clear that no state money would be used, meaning Florida Democrats would have to raise the estimated $6-million needed for a mail-in primary. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also said on This Week that he doubts his state can hold a new primary.

The possibility of holding new primaries by the Democratic National Committee's deadline of June 10 becomes less likely every day there's not a deal.

Appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, Nelson said he "would appreciate it very much if the chairman would get the DNC to sign on to the primary by mail so we can move on."

But Dean said that the DNC is focused on defeating Republican nominee John McCain in the fall. He also said that otherwise, the close primary race between New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Obama is going swimmingly.

"The states have got to put a plan on the table first. And when they do, then we'll take it to the candidates," Dean said on This Week.

Also on This Week, Crist said he would prefer that the Democrats simply seat the Florida delegation based on the Jan. 29 primary. Clinton won it, but none of the candidates campaigned in the state. In Michigan, only Clinton was on the Jan. 15 ballot.

Florida had "a great election, it was flawless essentially, and I think it ought to be recognized," Crist said.

He said he sees "consensus building," but Dean all but rejected that option Sunday.

"I think it's very unlikely that Florida and Michigan, given how close this race is, are going to be seated as is," Dean said on Face the Nation.

He also said any plan must be amenable to Clinton and Obama.

Clinton's campaign wants the original primary elections to count, but increasingly her surrogates are suggesting that new elections might be the best solution. Obama has said he will abide by any arrangement that meets DNC rules.

"We can't have half the Democratic Party walking around, thinking there was some deal cooked, and that's why their person didn't win. ... But first we need to have a proposal," Dean said on Face the Nation.

If Florida and Michigan don't hold new elections, they can appeal to the DNC's credentials committee, which rules the convention and can decide whether and how to seat the states' delegates. Its members are appointed by the candidates.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.