Democratic party officials dealt a blow to Hillary Clinton on Saturday by rejecting her calls for Michigan and Florida to have their full voting powers restored in the party’s presidential race.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Instead, the party agreed a compromise that allowed both states to send all their delegates to the Democratic national convention in August — but with only half a vote each.
The deal resulted in a modest increase in delegates for Mrs Clinton but fell well short of what she needed to have a realistic chance of catching Barack Obama.
The Clinton campaign said it reserved the right to challenge the decision, raising the possibility that the dispute could continue all the way to the convention in Denver.
Mrs Clinton won the Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries in January but the results were ruled invalid because both states violated party rules governing the primary calendar.
After a contentious 10-hour meeting in Washington, the Democratic Rules Committee agreed to allocate Florida’s delegates according to the results of its disputed primary, albeit with only half their voting rights reinstated.
This represented a partial victory for Mrs Clinton because she will receive 105 of the Sunshine State delegates to 67 for Mr Obama.
But the committee refused to fully recognise her victory in Michigan because Mr Obama’s name was not on the ballot there. Instead, Mrs Clinton was granted 69 delegates and Mr Obama was awarded 59.
The Clinton campaign reluctantly accepted the Florida compromise but reacted angrily to the formula used to allocate the Michigan delegates. “This decision violates the bedrock principles of our democracy and our party,” campaign officials said in a statement.
Clinton officials said they would consider challenging the decision through the Democratic credentials committee, which oversees the party convention.
Harold Ickes, Mrs Clinton’s top representative at the meeting, accused the party of “hijacking” delegates that were rightfully hers and said the decision would undermine efforts to unify the party.
”There’s been a lot of talk about party unity – let’s all come together, and put our arms around each other,” he said. ”[This] is not a good way to start down the path of party unity.”
The Florida deal was passed unanimously by the committee, while the Michigan agreement was approved by 19 votes to eight.
Mrs Clinton waged a fierce battle to have her victories in Florida and Michigan recognised, arguing it would be undemocratic and politically damaging for the party to disenfranchise two of America’s most populous and electorally important states.
But critics accused her of trying to change the rules of the election in her favour part way through, pointing out that both candidates knew in advance that neither Florida nor Michigan would count towards the nomination.
All the main Democratic contenders agreed not to campaign in the two states and Mrs Clinton was the only top-tier candidate to keep her name on the Michigan ballot.
The agreement left Mr Obama 60 short of the increased total of 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, with three contests remaining in Puerto Rico on Sunday and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday.
Mr Obama has made clear that he intends to fully switch focus to the general election campaign against John McCain, the Republican candidate, after Tuesday, signaling his confidence that the race is over.
But Mrs Clinton is expected to register a big win in Puerto Rico on Sunday, bolstering her debatable claim to be ahead in the popular vote.
Some analysts believe the former first lady is trying to force her way onto the Democratic ticket as Mr Obama’s running mate as a condition for dropping out.
Saturday’s meeting revealed the deep divisions created by the party’s epic presidential race, with Clinton and Obama supporters trading insults in the hotel where the meeting took place.
”How can you call yourselves Democrats if you don’t count the vote?” one Clinton supporter shouted after the decision was announced, according to news agencies ”This is not the Democratic Party!”