At first glance, Hillary Rodham Clinton should easily win Michigan's Democratic primary, since no other top candidates are on the ballot.
But she faces an unusual opponent: "Uncommitted."
If enough backers of the candidates who aren't on the ballot — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden — mark "Uncommitted" when they vote Jan. 15, it could take some of the luster off what's otherwise a certain Clinton victory.
"We will see if over the next two or three weeks the people who aren't on the ballot ... urge everyone to vote 'uncommitted.' I think that's an intriguing prospect," said Democratic activist Bob Alexander of East Lansing, Mich. "It would get a lot of national attention."
Despite last-ditch legislative efforts to put the four missing Democrats back on the ballot, it's now clear Clinton will be up against only Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.
A poll conducted earlier this month by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed 49 percent of likely Democratic voters back Clinton. But 18 percent support Obama, 15 percent prefer Edwards and 12 percent are undecided, leaving a potentially large pool of uncommitted voters who could muddy the perception of a Clinton victory.
Under Alexander's scenario, backers of Obama, Edwards, Richardson and Biden would get some of the uncommitted slots when Michigan Democrats hold district conventions in late March to choose 83 of their 156 national convention delegates.
He hopes a few might even go to Al Gore supporters, even though the former vice president isn't running and Alexander was unsuccessful in getting him on the Michigan ballot.
But seats will be set aside for uncommitted delegates at district conventions only if at least 15 percent of voters in the Democratic primary in that congressional district chose uncommitted, or if at least 15 percent of Democratic voters statewide choose uncommitted.
If enough Michigan Democrats vote "uncommitted," it could slow some of Clinton's momentum if she does well in the earlier Iowa and New Hampshire presidential contests. If she has done poorly until that point, the disaffection with her candidacy shown by uncommitted Michigan Democratic voters could harm her even further.
So far, the Clinton campaign doesn't seem too worried. A spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of "uncommitted" doing well.