Florida and Michigan could rerun primaries

The Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, yesterday pleaded with party officials in Florida and Michigan to come up with an acceptable plan that will enable their delegates to be seated at the nominating convention in late August.

The word from the party bosses was that a "do over" was needed to get out of the tangle caused by Hillary Clinton's big wins on Tuesday. She only narrowly ate into Barack Obama's delegate lead, but the result is a stalemate which cannot be resolved in the coming contests.

The party high command now feels that the only way to get a clear winner may be to rerun the two presidential nominating contests in Florida and Michigan. This could take the contest that was supposed to end in early February into the summer.

Both Florida and Michigan were punished by the party for jumping the gun and holding contests before 5 February, "Super Tuesday". Hillary Clinton won both contests but as things stand the elected delegates cannot take part in the nominating convention in Denver.

Yesterday, the Clinton camp shifted position, favouring a re-vote in both Michigan and Florida, in the belief that both states would naturally favour her. The Obama camp has yet to say what it wants, but the stakes are suddenly very high as the party tries to extract itself from a deadlock. If a decision is taken that is seen as biased towards Mrs Clinton, the fear is that the huge numbers of young voters, drawn to the Democratic party by Mr Obama's inspirational message, will simply melt away, leaving the party vulnerable to defeat in the presidential election.

Despite all the hoopla over her victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island, Mrs Clinton has only cut into Mr Obama's delegate lead by at most 15. At best she has given her campaign breathing space and slowed any move by the Democratic establishment in his favour.

To win the nomination, a candidate must secure 2,025 delegates and neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Obama can reach that number without the help of super delegates – the 795 party apparatchiks and elected Democrats who are automatically seated at the convention. A headcount of pledged and projected delegates by The New York Times give Mr Obama 1,299 delegates and Mrs Clinton 1,180.

To help her cross the finishing line first, Mrs Clinton is demanding that delegates from Michigan and Florida be counted even though neither candidate campaigned actively in these races. Michigan's Democratic contest was more akin to an election in a one-party state as only her name was on the ballot. Mr Dean has ruled out seating the delegates and went on television yesterday to say that the national Democratic Party will not pay the $50m it will cost to run a second set of presidential primaries. "We can't afford to do that," Mr Dean said on CBS. "That's not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race."

More than a million Democrats went to the poll in Florida on 29 January ignoring the fact that the Democratic National Committee had already stripped the state of its delegates because it moved its primary date to before Super Tuesday.

Whatever the outcome of the coming primaries and caucuses in Mississippi, Wyoming and Pennsylvania, there is almost no prospect of the logjam being broken the way things stand.

"The rules were set a year and a half ago," Mr Dean said. "Florida and Michigan voted for them, and then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. Well, when you are in a contest you do need to abide by the rules."

Michigan's governor, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and Florida's state party chair now say they are prepared to run their contests again with the first Tuesday in June pencilled in, along with Montana and South Dakota.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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