The prospective new round of voting injects new uncertainty — and suspense — into the primary, adding two more major showdowns that could help Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton narrow the lead Sen. Barack Obama holds in pledged delegates. But the details of re-votes in those two states remain uncertain, as relatively weak political players spent the day calling on one another to take action. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean demanded that the state parties sort it out on their own. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, in turn, called on Dean to take charge.
"I call on you to find a means — immediately — to bring the party and the Clinton and Obama campaigns together immediately in agreement on a plan to seat the Florida delegation," Nelson wrote Dean in an open letter, in which he suggested "a do-over election in early June, paid for by the DNC."
Dean flatly rejected the notion that the party would pony up.
"We can't afford to do that — that's not our problem," he said on CBS, expressing a willingness to allow the issue to proceed to a bitter procedural showdown in the party's credentials committee this summer.
"We need our money to win the presidential race."
Dean and Nelson spoke Thursday, a Democratic official said, with Dean reiterating his refusal to pay for the Florida re-vote.
Top officials in both Florida and Michigan said the mechanics of the primaries are becoming clear. In Florida, officials favor a primary conducted by mail. In Michigan, the likely solution is a "firehouse caucus," a process with fewer locations and shorter hours than a primary, but more open and flexible to voters than caucuses elsewhere.
"A caucus is out of the question," said Mark Bubriski, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "We are committed to holding a process that allows all Florida Democrats to participate, whether they're fighting in Iraq, homebound in Boca or working the night shift at Disney."
Debbie Dingell, a prominent Michigan Democrat, said leaders in her state would move by consensus, based on the principles that "it won't cost taxpayers anything, both campaigns have to agree to it as well as the DNC, and it's got to be practical and affordable."
The bottom line, though, is the cost. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has backed off suggestions that the state could pay for it, and neither state party has the resources to finance a broad new contest.
Officials have suggested the campaigns could dip into their own pockets, or steer their donors toward the states, but both Clinton and Obama are remaining noncommittal.
(One Florida official on Wednesday, noting that campaign finance regulations are flexible as to financing party activities such as primaries, offered, only half in jest, a novel suggestion: Corporate sponsorship. "We could have the Tropicana Primary or the Miami Dolphins Primary," the official said.)
Both campaigns on Wednesday, however, signaled openness to a re-run.
Clinton appeared to soften her demands that the results of the January contests, which she won, be counted. And Obama has little choice but to bow to a political reality that makes it quite difficult to oppose a proposal to allow voters to vote and have their votes counted.
"I'm going to let the leadership of both states see what they think is the best approach. I think that it would be a grave disservice to the voters of Florida and Michigan to adopt any process that would disenfranchise anyone," she said Thursday.
"Our campaign will support whatever the DNC rules are, including a fair remedy to this problem. However, allowing Sen. Clinton to change the rules and award her the nonexistent dlegates when there was no campaign in the state is not the answer," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
The actual negotiations over a re-running of the two elections may prove tricky. A Florida official said there's been little productive contact between the state's Democrats and the DNC. A group of four senior Michigan Democrats — Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger and Dingell — has been leading discussions on a solution there, but concerns about the cost remain, officials said.
And the candidates remain firmly on the sidelines, as do the most powerful party figures, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Right now, we are nowhere near the possibility" of new votes, said one official close to the discussions, "because none of the people who are talking about it are really in a position to make it happen. None of the players in the campaigns are involved."