Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s hopes for the presidential nomination may in large part rest on an obscure Democratic National Committee panel, a group of several allies, but not enough at this point to achieve her goal of counting the votes or delegates of Florida and Michigan.
The panel, the Rules and Bylaws Committee, is to meet on May 31 in Washington and could determine the nominating process, or at least heavily influence it. What the committee will do is a major question mark before the last primaries on June 3.
Among the 30 panel members, 13 have declared support for Mrs. Clinton and 8 have declared for Senator Barack Obama. Seven others are neutral or have not declared, although some of their fellow members perceive at least four as leaning toward Mr. Obama. The co-chairmen have not endorsed anyone.
Among the members is Harold Ickes, a top adviser and chief delegate counter for Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Ickes would most likely lead in making Mrs. Clinton’s case, which is that the committee should seat the full delegations from both Florida and Michigan. The committee has voted to strip both states of their delegates because they violated party rules in moving up their primaries.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign wants the delegates apportioned between her and Mr. Obama based on popular votes. That would give her a net increase of 47 delegates.
Changing the conversation
This is not enough for the lead in the delegate count, but validating those states could bolster the Clinton argument that she is ahead in the overall count of the popular vote. The Clinton camp hopes it can persuade superdelegates that the popular vote is a valid metric by which to judge her strength, and that will help move them into her column
The campaign said the West Virginia primary on Tuesday gave Mrs. Clinton, by some counts, the overall edge in the popular vote, if Michigan and Florida are included and some caucus states are not.
“This is one of many factors that superdelegates are going to look at,” a spokesman for the campaign, Howard Wolfson, told reporters. But “it is obviously not dispositive.”
Mr. Obama has said that if he has enough delegates to secure his nomination, he would want to seat the full Michigan and Florida delegations. But he has not said how the rules panel should apportion the two states’ delegations if he has not gotten the required number of delegates over all by the May 31 meeting.
His campaign hopes that the question becomes moot, and plans are afoot for Mr. Obama to claim the nomination on May 20, when the Oregon primary is expected to give him a majority of pledged delegates.
A growing sense in Mr. Obama’s campaign is that the rules meeting will be irrelevant and that the Clinton campaign is promoting it as a psychological reason for her to continue the race. Aides said they doubted that superdelegates would be persuaded by Mrs. Clinton’s argument that she is ahead in the overall popular vote.
Superdelegates have been continuing to drift toward Mr. Obama.
“The remaining superdelegates who aren’t committed are not waiting for a better argument,” an Obama ally said. “They’re waiting for this process to figure itself out.”
On the committee agenda are two challenges to its stripping Florida and Michigan of their delegates. The challenges essentially ask that either all delegates be seated with half a vote or that just half the states’ delegates be seated.
A third challenge may come from Michigan, seeking to have approximately 75 percent of the delegates seated.
The co-chairmen of the panel, James Roosevelt Jr. and Alexis Herman, have agreed not to endorse anyone until all disputes have been settled, Mr. Roosevelt said, adding that in case of a tie on a motion, they would vote.
Another member, Donald Fowler, a former chairman of the national committee and a supporter of Mrs. Clinton, said: “The intensity of the fight will vary with the degree that the Clinton people think we still have a chance. The ball is in Obama’s court. If he wants to be magnanimous, he can be, without threatening his position, and that could lead to a fairly amicable resolution.
“But if he thinks he’s threatened, he won’t do it, and I don’t blame him. But unless something unusual happens between now and then, he will be in good shape.”
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