Hillary Rodham Clinton's path to the Democratic nomination has steepened, with Florida and Michigan giving up last week on new primaries and the Democratic Party refusing to count delegates from those states without new contests.
The party is now under intense pressure to forge a solution that backers of both Senator Clinton and Barack Obama see as fair. "The real danger is a 1968 convention for the Democrats, where people felt cheated," says Ronald Rapoport, a political scientist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., alluding to one of recent history's most divisive and damaging conventions.
Clinton's aides say she could make a credible case for the nomination even without a majority of pledged delegates and without revotes in Florida and Michigan. She would need a substantial victory in Pennsylvania on April 22 and enough votes in the 10 remaining contests to overtake Senator Obama in the popular vote, a tall order.
Mark Penn, her chief strategist, says the campaign will look beyond hard numbers in making its case to the some 300 superdelegates, or party leaders, who remain uncommitted. "It's not a question of a cut and dried calculation at this point," he told reporters on a conference call Friday. The campaign hopes superdelegates will also consider "who they believe can win the general election" and who is better "for the good of the country and the good of the party."
Despite heavy lobbying by Clinton and her supporters, Michigan lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a revote before the start of a two-week recess Thursday. Florida abandoned its push for a do-over Monday.
The efforts in both states bogged down in a quagmire of legal, financial, and logistical questions, as well as bitter disagreements between the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
The Democratic Party stripped Michigan and Florida of delegates to the national convention for holding primaries in January, earlier than party rules allow. Both candidates honored the rules by not campaigning in those states, and Obama took an extra step of removing his name from the Michigan ballot. Voters went to the polls anyway, and Clinton won.
With Obama's nearly insurmountable lead in pledged delegates, a revote in Florida and Michigan – or a recognition of the January results – was viewed as Clinton's best chance to narrow the gap and persuade superdelegates of a popular mandate for her candidacy.
In Detroit last week, Clinton said it was "wrong and frankly un-American" to deny Florida and Michigan a voice in the nomination.
Clinton aides rejected an Obama proposal to evenly split Michigan's 128 pledged delegates. Her campaign said it would consider a mail-in contest, but Obama aides have raised concerns about ballot security.
"Without the two candidates or their representatives agreeing to a formula for distribution of the delegates, the party is in a stalemate," Donna Brazile, an uncommitted Democratic strategist and member of the Democratic National Committee, said in an e-mail interview.
Meanwhile, party leaders in Florida and Michigan are adamant that their delegations be seated according to the popular vote. "I am deeply disappointed," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in a statement after talks collapsed for a state-run, privately funded primary on June 3. "Now that the Legislature has decided not to act, we will turn our attention to other options."
She and her aides didn't offer specifics. But analysts say they range from a mail-in contest to caucuses or a convention.
Florida, for its part, ruled out a new vote. "We spent the weekend reviewing your messages," Karen Thurman, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, wrote in a letter to Democrats there last Monday, "and while your reasons vary widely, the consensus is clear: Florida doesn't want to vote again. So we won't."
Nonetheless, says Alejandro Miyar, a Florida Democratic Party spokesman, "What we want is for Florida to be seated at the convention and the delegation to have a hand in picking the nominee."
On Friday, a federal appeals court in Atlanta threw out a lawsuit challenging the Democratic Party's decision to deny Florida its 210 delegates but left the door open for the suit to be refiled.
A DNC member from Florida has filed two appeals with the DNC's rules and bylaws committee. One charges that the party erred in stripping Florida of its 25 superdelegates. The other says the DNC breached its own rules by taking away all of Florida's delegates, instead of half.
James Roosevelt Jr., co-chairman of the rules panel, says he wants Florida and Michigan at the convention in August in the interest of party unity. But without new contests, he wouldn't support seating their delegations in a way that changed the outcome of the nomination.
"There was a fair and openly adopted set of rules that the legislatures in Florida and Michigan chose not to follow," says Mr. Roosevelt Jr., CEO of Tufts Health Plan in Massachusetts. "I don't think there is any inclination to honor an illegal process in a way that affects the outcome."
If the dispute isn't resolved by the time the 30-member rules panel disbands around July 1, it would move to a 186-strong convention credentials committee, a more freewheeling body with members from every state appointed by the presidential candidates in proportion to their delegate counts.
With the stakes so high, analysts say, the final decision on the Florida and Michigan delegates is likely to turn less on principle than politics. "Neither campaign has a pure argument" for counting or not counting the states, says Henry Brady, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Both sides have sinned."