For Clinton and Obama, next six weeks are critical
By the next primary, April 22, the way to count Florida and Michigan may be settled.
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A decision on whether to rerun the Michigan and Florida primaries could come in the next couple of weeks, a move likely to divert a raft of campaign resources to those delegate-rich states.Skip to next paragraph
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The chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, has said he is open to new contests there. But officials in those states have yet to come up with the money for the do-overs, which could cost more than $30 million. A less-expensive alternative now under discussion in both states is a mail-in primary.
In a sign that lobbying from the campaigns was already under way, Clinton's campaign released an open letter Wednesday urging the Obama campaign to "honor the results" in Michigan and Florida or agree to new contests.
Obama and his aides, however, raised concerns this week about the prospect of ballot fraud. "The state of Oregon has mail-in voting, and it took them more than a decade to perfect it," his chief strategist, David Axelrod, told reporters in a conference call. "And now we're going to turn this process over to parties within the states … with a matter of weeks to prepare?"
Obama aides are also downplaying the significance of Pennsylvania, where Clinton is heavily favored. "We'll campaign hard there," his campaign manager, David Plouffe, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "But our campaign won't be defined by Pennsylvania."
Another front over the next month will be the courtship of roughly 338 super delegates who remain uncommitted.
Kalyn Free, a superdelegate and former district attorney from Oklahoma, says she has been "heavily" lobbied by both campaigns but isn't comfortable deciding until a clear front-runner emerges.
"Just when you think one candidate is dead in the water, they rebound," she said in a phone interview. "It complicates my decision in that it's a balancing act: First, what is the general will of the people? Second, what is in the best interest of the Democratic Party? Third, who is going to be the best nominee to run against John McCain?"
The week has seen a sharp escalation in rhetoric as Clinton and Obama try to answer just such questions.
The Obama campaign issued a memo Tuesday challenging Clinton's foreign policy credentials, and then demanded that Clinton denounce comments from one of her fundraisers, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who told a California newspaper that Obama owed his political fortunes to being black. (Clinton later told the Associated Press that she disagreed with Ferraro.)
Clinton countered Obama's foreign policy memo with one accusing Obama of a "fundamentally misleading attack."
The closeness of the race has helped draw legions of voters to the polls and stirred activism in states unaccustomed to a role in choosing the nominee. But if the popular voting does not produce a nominee by the convention, analysts say, that could demoralize voters and cripple Democrats in November.
"The potential for one side to feel that the other has stolen the nomination is really strong right now," says Dr. Aistrup of Kansas State. "The result of that in November is that it turns a pretty strong probability of a Democratic victory into a situation where John McCain is very likely to win."