The Democratic Party risks the defection of many supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton unless it settles the Florida and Michigan primary fracas to their satisfaction, said protesters at pro-Clinton rallies in Washington yesterday.
"I refuse to be associated with a party that is stupid, self-destructive and undemocratic, and now, I'm beginning to realize, is misogynistic," said Norma Broude, an American University professor who was among more than 1,000 Clinton supporters at a "count the vote" rally at Rock Creek Park.
Friend and fellow American University professor Mary Garrard agreed, saying that she will not vote for Mrs. Clinton's rival, Sen. Barack Obama, if he receives the party's presidential nomination.
"The Democratic Party has disdained the female demographic, they have demeaned Hillary Clinton, and this time we're not going to roll over," Ms. Garrard said.
As the pro-Clinton contingent, which was largely female but racially and generationally mixed, rallied in the park, Democratic leaders were gathered a few blocks away at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel to decide the fate of the combined 313 disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan, and, in turn, the fate of Mrs. Clinton's long-shot chance of overcoming Mr. Obama's delegate lead.
Democratic leadership disqualified the delegates and barred them from attending the party's August convention in Denver as punishment for the states moving their primaries ahead of Feb. 5 - a violation of party rules. They decided last night to award half-votes to each state's delegates and apportion the delegates to the two candidates in a ratio that did not satisfy the Clinton team.
Mrs. Clinton, who has virtually no chance of winning the nomination without major boosts from those states, has pushed hard for full delegations to be reinstated. She won both contests, although her rival removed his name from the Michigan ballot. Both candidates also agreed not to campaign in either state.
As the committee announced its decisions, Clinton supporters in the room angrily shouted "Count all the votes!" and "This isn't fair!"
"This is not the Democratic Party. The Republicans are the ones that disenfranchise the voters," shouted one man while thrusting his fist in the air.
"You stripped me of my vote. How dare you," shouted a woman from the balcony.
After the meeting adjourned, Clinton backer Michele Thomas accused Democratic leaders of "fixing" the primary results in favor of Mr. Obama, and said she will leave the party.
"The Democratic Party turned its back on us, and now we're going to turn our backs on them," said Ms. Thomas, who traveled from her home in Los Angeles to attend the hearing.
Polls of Democratic primary voters also suggest that many Clinton supporters would not support Mr. Obama in November against the Republican nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain.
Surveys of Clinton voters in recent primary states have shown that 26 percent to 36 percent, depending on the state, say they would back Mr. McCain over Mr. Obama in the general election, while just 10 percent to 18 percent of Obama supporters say they would prefer the Republican to the other Democrat in November.
Gallup tracking reports from May 23 through May 28 showed Mrs. Clinton consistently running three to five percentage points ahead of Mr. McCain. Over the same period, Mr. Obama fared no better than a tie with the Republican senator.
"Hillary is obviously better positioned to beat McCain than Obama," Ms. Garrard said.
Constanta Nour-Hinkle of Reading, Pa., who was one of a few hundred Clinton supporters who protested outside the Marriott, said she is a lifelong Democrat, but would not vote for Mr. Obama for president.
"It would be the first time in my life I would vote Republican for president," said Mrs. Nour-Hinkle, 35. "I think Obama is an empty shirt, the same as [President] George W. Bush, but only a Democrat."
John Overton, who shouted pro-Clinton slogans outside the hotel, said he would leave the party if Mr. Obama receives the Democratic nomination for president.
"I can't stand for the Democratic Party if they don't stand for voters' rights," said Mr. Overton, who traveled from his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., to attend the rally. The party "would no longer exist to me as a party."
"I don't scream like this normally. I'm a rational guy, but I've never felt like this before," he added. "This has been a travesty of democracy."
But Johnnie Mae Collins, who traveled from Jacksonville, Fla., to attended the protests, said that while she is upset the Democratic Party disqualified her state's primary results, she won't leave the party.
"Why would we abandon what we are? McCain is not for us," Ms. Collins said. "Some people say if Obama wins they're not going to vote for the party, but I'm not going that way. Those people who say that were never a true Democrat, that's for sure, because for me, you're going to stand with [the party]."
T-shirt vendor Charles Greer of Washington said he brought his stash of Obama shirts and hats to the Rock Creek rally because he said he thought it was going to be a Democratic rally for "recounting the vote."
"But all I've heard them talk about was Hillary, Hillary, Hillary," Mr. Greer said.
Mr. Greer said that while some protests cursed him and waved obscene hand gestures, he still sold about 30 to 40 Obama shirts and hats.
"Hillary shirts don't sell well in Washington. If they did, we'd have Hillary shirts too," he said.