WASHINGTON - The fate of nearly 2.3 million Democratic presidential primary votes belongs to 30 party activists.
Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama views the presidential carvings at Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, S.D., Friday, May 30, 2008. [Agencies]
The activists sit on the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which was to meet Saturday to decide what role Michigan and Florida should play at the national convention in August.
Both states were banned from sending delegates to the meeting because they held primaries in January, too early for party rules. They were attempting to have greater influence on the presidential nominating process long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire.
Now Democrats want to figure a way to include the two states in the convention because they will be important battlegrounds in the general election.
Just how many delegates to give each state and how to distribute them between the candidates was the vexing decision before the rules committee. Clinton supporters planned a protest to demand full seating of the 368 delegates from the two states - an unlikely outcome with committee members interested in punishing the two states to discourage future line jumpers.
By 8 a.m. Saturday some 200 people had gathered on a sidewalk outside the hotel where the committee was to meet. They waved homemade signs, blew party signs, and chanted "Every vote!" Hotel security staff kept watch over the crowd, shepherding people off the hotel grounds at times.
Beverly Battelle Weeks, 56, a Clinton delegate who got up well before dawn to drive up from Richmond, Va., carried a black umbrella on which she had pasted letters spelling out "Count All Votes."
"The right thing to do is to seat all the delegates. Anything less is not democratic," she said.
Hillary Rodham Clinton won both the Florida and Michigan contests after all the candidates agreed not to campaign in either state. At the time, she said the vote didn't matter, but now she is trailing Barack Obama and wants to see her victories result in more delegates at the convention.
"It's important to send the right signals to them and the people living in those states that we Democrats value those states, value those voters and want them as full partners in a general election in assembling 270 electoral votes," said Clinton strategist Harold Ickes, a member of the rules committee.
Obama could afford to allow Clinton a few delegates - going into the meeting, he was just 42 away from the nomination out of more than 2,000 required. Clinton was more than 200 delegates behind.