Pro-Clinton demonstrators warn of defecting

As Democratic Party leaders gathered at Washington’s Marriot Wardman Park Hotel this afternoon in an attempt to resolve the fight over the disqualified Florida and Michigan primaries, hundreds of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters protested outside to demand the party grant convention delegates according to the votes in the two states.

“We are all a nation together, there are 50 states, not 48,” said Constanta Nour-Hinkle, 35, who traveled by train from Reading, Pa. today to attend the rally. “I felt I needed to make my voice hear and I wanted to show solidarity with the 2.3 million voters [in Florida and Michigan] whose voices were not heard.”

Mrs. Nour-Hinkle said she would rather vote for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, than for Mrs. Clinton’s rival, Sen. Barack Obama — echoing the sentiments of many protesters.

“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 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 had been a travesty of democracy.”

Mary Garrard and Norma Broude, who were among more than 1,000 Clinton supporters who attended a “count the vote” rally at nearby Rock Creek Park this morning, accused the media and the Democratic Party of demonizing Mrs. Clinton.

“The Democratic Party has disdained the female demographic, they have demeaned Hillary Clinton, and this time we’re not going to roll over,” said Ms. Garrard, an art history professor at American University. “Hillary is obviously better positioned to beat McCain than Obama. It’s obvious.”

Ms. Broude said she is so upset by what she described as sexist treatment of Mrs. Clinton by the media and Democratic leaders that she has left the party.

“I refuse to be associated with a party that is stupid, self-destructive and un-democratic, and now, I’m beginning to realize, is misogynistic,” said Ms. Broude, who also teaches art history at American.

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 abandon 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].”

Meanwhile, inside the hotel the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee continued its day-long hearing to decide the fate of combined 313 disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan, and, in turn, the fate of Mrs. Clinton’s long-shot chance of overcoming Mr. Obamas 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.

Mrs. Clinton, who has virtually no chance of winning the nomination without the states, has pushed hard for the delegates 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.

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