Sen. Barack Obama's campaign yesterday suggested that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters are aiming to "create chaos" instead of bridging party divides during the upcoming Democratic National Committee hearing on the Michigan and Florida mess.
Thousands of Clinton supporters are expected to flood Washington this weekend with the rallying cry to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee: "Count our votes." The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has urged its supporters to avoid protests in the spirit of party unity as the nomination process "comes to a close."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said his boss is being charitable by compromising for some seating of the Michigan and Florida delegations even though those states broke party rules by holding their primaries too early.
"We don't think it's a helpful dynamic to create chaos," Mr. Plouffe told reporters in advance of Saturday's daylong hearing to resolve the disputed contests.
He characterized the planned protests as "a scene" and "a spectacle" while Obama supporter David Wilhelm, who ran Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992, said the protesters risk turning "this thing into a circus."
Mr. Plouffe argued that the campaign has considerable support in the Mid-Atlantic region - Mr. Obama swept the Feb. 12 primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia - and said with the simple "click of a mouse" the campaign could generate "tens of thousands of people" to rally for the Obama cause.
Clinton aides said the campaign is not organizing the protests but dozens of blogs friendly to the former first lady are encouraging supporters to show up at the hearing. Mrs. Clinton also has been pushing petitions to count the Florida and Michigan votes.
A group called Hillary Rapid Responders urges voters to show up at its daylong rally. "If you believe that the DNC must honor our core democratic principles and enfranchise the people of MI and FL and their respective delegations ... that Hillary Clinton is best for our party, most likely to win in November and best for our country ... that the media and DNC have underestimated the passion, strength, intensity and determination of Hillary supporters and the power of the women's vote."
The group's site cautioned: "Our purpose is not to divide the party or attack the DNC or Senator Obama. At the same time, Hillary's strong support cannot be dismissed in DNC efforts to unify the party."
Regardless of the scene on the streets outside the hearing, the 30 panel members are tasked with finding a compromise for Florida and Michigan delegates. The states held primaries in January even as DNC members agreed that none of the delegates would be seated at the summer nominating convention and none would count toward clinching the party nod.
Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Obama in Florida 50 percent to 33 percent, and former candidate John Edwards, now an Obama supporter, earned 14.4 percent of the vote.
In Michigan, Mrs. Clinton won 60 percent and "uncommitted" garnered 40 percent. Mr. Obama's name was not on the ballot.
During the protracted primary season, the DNC has faced increasing pressure, vocal protests and e-mail campaigns urging the party to reconsider and recognize the delegates from the two swing states.
Clinton supporter Tina Flournoy stressed her independence as a longtime member of the rules panel, but she also told reporters, "There is one number we are going to be satisfied with, and that's 2.3 million people having their votes counted."
A neutral DNC analysis provided to panel members this week outlines proposed scenarios, including seating 50 percent of the delegates or seating the entire delegation with each person representing a half vote.
Of the panel members, nine are neutral, 13 are Clinton supporters and eight are Obama supporters.
The Clinton camp said it wants a full seating of the delegates from the two rogue states, even though the senator from New York once said the Michigan contest would not "count for anything."
Clinton senior adviser Harold Ickes, a member of the rules panel, yesterday reserved the right to appeal the decision to the DNC's more obscure Credentials Committee. "That's a bridge to cross when we come to that particular stream," he said.
Mr. Plouffe said Mr. Obama is "open to some compromise that's fair," and that it is not fair to fully seat the delegations.
"Any compromise is clearly going to benefit Senator Clinton," Mr. Plouffe said, calling that position a "major concession" and "not an insignificant gesture" aimed at party unity.
He said the campaigns fought "fiercely" in the Ohio and Pennsylvania contests, which resulted in fewer net delegates than Saturday's decision could award Mrs. Clinton.
Most Democrats agreed that Saturday's ruling will end the uncertainty surrounding the two swing states but said is unlikely to deliver the nomination to Mrs. Clinton, since she trails the senator from Illinois in the delegate count.
Team Clinton thinks her expected win in Puerto Rico on Sunday coupled with an electability argument may persuade superdelegates to take her side and make her the nominee. By saying she has won more votes, Mrs. Clinton is dismissing Mr. Obama's wins in caucus states.
The Obama camp has dismissed the popular vote argument, saying Clinton aides are moving the goal posts in the battle for delegates.
Both campaigns acknowledged the so-called "magic number" of delegates needed to clinch the nomination will change after the Saturday decision. Under current party rules, Mr. Obama is 46 delegates away from earning the Democratic nod.
Mr. Plouffe said the resolution Saturday will help Mr. Obama pivot toward challenging the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
"The general election will be here before we know it," he said. "The thing you can never have enough of in politics is time. The clock is ticking here."