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Voters rally to be heard

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

The 30 members of the Democratic Party panel deciding the fate of Florida and Michigan's delegates to the nominating convention are being inundated with letters - and messages written on oranges - from party faithful eager for a resolution favorable to their presidential candidate or state.

Florida Demands Representation (FDR) is organizing the orange effort, and estimates more than 1,000 of the citrus fruits have been sent as part of "Project Orange Crush, Put the Squeeze on." The citizen effort - which has its own petition of more than 200,000 signatures, is not affiliated with a campaign.

"When you vote in the United States, your vote should count," said FDR's Jim Hannagan of Palm Harbor, Fla., who declined to say who he voted for Jan. 29. He said many Floridians think this is another example of their votes being "stolen."

"It was quite good, I have a cold and that was nice, but I don't think an orange or even a grapefruit is going to determine how I vote on these things," said Alice Germond, secretary of the Democratic National Committee and a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee tasked with deciding how to resolve the delegate mess during a May 31 hearing.

Mrs. Germond is neutral in the fight between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama for the nomination, but activists and bloggers are casting their judgments on the panel members who have picked sides - 13 for Mrs. Clinton and eight for Mr. Obama.

The panel members are hearing from Democrats imploring them to either count the votes or honor the rules and punish the rogue states for jumping the calendar.

Some are telling panel members it is unfair to count the votes because many did not go to the polls in January, choosing to stay home because they were told their votes would not matter. Mrs. Clinton told New Hampshire radio in October when she was the front-runner that the Michigan contest was "not going to count for anything."

Committee members said yesterday they are determined to show independence while crafting a situation that honors the millions who voted and is fair to both candidates. If that remains true during the hearing in Washington, it's a stance that is unlikely to swing the nomination in Mrs. Clinton's favor because Mr. Obama significantly leads her in the overall delegate count.

"It may be that both candidates end up unhappy with our decision, and if that happens it would mean we did the right thing," said Mame Reiley, a DNC member from Virginia who has endorsed the former first lady.

Clinton senior adviser Harold Ickes shrugged off criticism that as a rules and bylaws panel member he voted for the delegate-stripping plan he now wants to revoke, saying he thinks the states have been sufficiently punished.

The campaign's preference is that both delegations should be seated along with all of their delegates, who should all get a full vote, he said.

The Obama campaign has said it is open to compromise. Both camps will be represented at the hearing, and thousands have been making their voices heard.

"I'm getting e-mails, letters and phone calls from people with varying views on the subject, and I've gotten two oranges," said Thomas Hynes, an Illinois lawyer who serves on the panel and backs Mr. Obama. "They said, 'Save our vote.' "

Mr. Hynes said he will be fair and would take every letter into consideration when coming up with a decision next Saturday.

Mrs. Clinton, who won both states in January even as the DNC said the delegates would not be seated during the summer nominating convention, is urging her supporters to sign petitions on behalf of the states.

Ms. Reiley said she believes the Michigan situation - where Mr. Obama's name was not on the ballot but "uncommitted" won 40 percent - is the apple to Florida's orange, so to speak.

She said Florida is a more clear-cut case as an "equal playing field" because turnout was so high and all of the Democrats were on the ballot.

Ms. Reiley has been lobbied by both Clinton and Obama supporters, and gets calls from Obama officials, but she said that on May 31: "My pledge of support to Hillary is secondary to my affiliation as a Democrat."

Mr. Ickes said the stripping of Florida and Michigan's delegates at the time served its purpose since the move was a "very strong signal" about "very severe consequences " that discouraged any other states from breaking the rules, but, "It is now time as practical political people" to honor the votes.

The committee co-chairmen, who did not return calls from The Washington Times, are "conducting informal discussions" with both campaigns, Mr. Ickes said, declining to reveal details of the conversations.

The Obama campaign did not respond to inquiries.

Also yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Mr. Obama is starting to consider vice presidential picks. Jim Johnson, who helped Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984, will lead the search.