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Michigan Democrats Staying Quiet On Primary Options

As Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) made headlines Thursday for floating the possibility of a Democratic primary do-over, Michigan’s Democrats are approaching the topic with similar gravity but lighter steps.

Both Michigan and Florida bumped their Democratic primaries forward this year, and both suffered the wrath of the Democratic National Committee, which stripped them of their nominating convention delegates. Nelson responded Thursday with a letter to DNC Chairman Howard Dean, asking that either Florida’s delegates be reinstated or the national party fund another primary election. If neither request is met, Nelson warned, the Democrats would run a greater risk of losing the state in November’s presidential race.

But while Nelson has gone public, some of Michigan’s congressional leaders are waiting quietly to play their hands.

“One way or another, we’ve got to get Michigan and Florida voters represented,” said Cullen Schwarz, spokesman for Michigan Democratic Rep. Sander Levin. “But you’ve also got to do it in a way that’s fair to both candidates.”

That being said, Cullen added, “We’re not advocating a solution at this point.”

The offices of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) voiced similar sentiments.

Complicating the issue, Tuesday’s primaries have left the two remaining Democrats, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), in a horserace, after Clinton pulled out much needed victories in Texas and Ohio. She still trails Obama in delegates, however, and could use the votes she gathered in her unofficial victories in Florida and Michigan to make up the difference. For that reason, the Clinton camp has pushed to legitimize those two contests. Critics of that plan, however, are quick to point out that the unofficial nature of those elections probably kept many Democrats at home.

Dingell, Nelson and Sander Levin have all endorsed Clinton.

Liz Kerr, spokeswomen for the Michigan Democratic Party, said that state party officials are in private negotiations with the DNC, as well as the Clinton and Obama campaigns, to negotiate a solution to the primary enigma. Those talks will continue, she added, until all four parties agree to an outcome.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest,” she said. “We want to beat John McCain this fall, and a Democrat cannot take the White House without Michigan.”

One option, Kerr said, would be for Michigan to hold a caucus — something the DNC has advocated for some time. The DNC has not offered to pay for the process, however, and “we’re not going to ask the taxpayers to fund our do-overs,” Kerr said.

But the caucus option has already run into critics, at least in Florida. “You can’t undo an election with a caucus,” Nelson said on the Senate floor Feb. 8. “And especially you can’t undo an election where 1.7 million Florida Democrats have voted in a secret ballot and replace it with a caucus that maybe 50,000 people would show up [for].”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) punted on the issue Thursday, arguing that the conflict is one for party officials to resolve. “I’m not going to be addressing that,” Pelosi said. “That is a question of party rules. I think you should take that up with the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”

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