- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2008

DURHAM, N.C. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign yesterday tried to redefine the delegate math for securing the Democratic presidential nomination, signaling its willingness to wage a divisive battle with front-runner Sen. Barack Obama through the summer.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, questioned Mrs. Clinton’s trustworthiness heading into today’s primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

Top Clinton aides said the nominee must win based on a tally that includes delegates from Florida and Michigan, which held January primaries that were disqualified by party rules. The campaign’s “Delegate Hub” Web site identifies 2,208 as the total delegates needed to be nominated, or 183 more than the threshold of 2,025 set by the Democratic National Committee’s rules.

“That’s what we believe is the standard for deciding this — who has the majority of the total delegates including Michigan and Florida to decide the nomination,” said Clinton strategist Geoff Garin.

The Obama campaign has long accused Team Clinton of “moving the goal posts” to avoid facing the reality that it is nearly impossible for her to catch up, and his supporters in the Democratic Party’s hierarchy reacted angrily yesterday to the idea that the 2,025-delegate finish line could be changed, especially because Mr. Obama is 273 delegates from reaching that magic number according to his campaign count.

“When you totally ignore the rules, letting these people change the outcome, that doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” Allan Katz of Tallahassee, Fla., a member of the DNC’s executive committee, told The Washington Times.

“It’s not just a question of changing the rules, it’s ignoring the reason the [DNC’s] rules committee is there, to enforce the rules. You don’t get relieved of that responsibility if you don’t like the outcome,” Mr. Katz said.

Mr. Garin said “neither candidate” will have the needed delegates by June 3 when the last votes are counted in South Dakota and Montana. But Mr. Obama, should he win over a large bloc of superdelegates — elected officials and party activists who help decide the nomination — could get to 2,025 by then.

The delegates from Florida and Michigan were deemed ineligible when the states broke party rules to hold primaries earlier than allowed. The DNC’s Convention Rules and Bylaws Committee is scheduled to meet May 31 to discuss the issue. Until then, the DNC said it won’t comment on the delegate problem.

“Let’s see what happens on May 31,” DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said yesterday.

If the Rules and Bylaws Committee can’t reach an agreement with the campaigns, the matter will go to the party’s Credentials Committee, which probably won’t meet until July at the earliest.

On the stump yesterday, Mr. Obama told voters that many Americans do not find Mrs. Clinton to be trustworthy, and said his critics are reaching when they attack him for not wearing a flag pin.

“I think the majority of people do find me trustworthy, more than they do the other candidate, and we can’t solve problems if people don’t think that their leaders are telling them the truth. If they think their leaders are just saying whatever it is that helps them get to the next election, you can never ask them for sacrifice, because they are thinking, ‘I don’t want to be played for a sap, for a patsy,’ ” he said.

“There’s something about our campaign that’s right, that’s true,” he said in responding to an undecided voter in Durham who said electability was her biggest concern and asked why she should choose Mr. Obama.

The candidate said he can beat presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain once Democrats are unified, and said even though he has had a month of negative press, he is still tied with the senator from Arizona in most polls and beats him in large states such as California and New York.

“Don’t buy into this electability argument,” Mr. Obama told the woman. “Go with who you think best represents your vision of where America needs to go. If you do that, I am absolutely confident that that person will win.”

As the presidential hopefuls went after each over high gas prices, the campaigns already were working to set expectations for today’s primaries in North Carolina, where Mr. Obama’s double-digit lead has dwindled, and in Indiana, where they’re locked in a tight race with Mrs. Clinton ahead in most polls.

“Every single poll shows this is a dead heat; we need every single vote,” Mr. Obama told union members in Evansville, Ind.

Mr. Garin told reporters he thinks the former first lady — trailing in states won and delegates — has made “substantial progress” in North Carolina and has cut into Mr. Obama’s one-time 20-point lead.

Yesterday, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said the campaign is waiting for the results of the rules committee meeting at month’s end.

“There’s a process in place, and we’re awaiting the outcome of those challenges,” he said.

“Do they not think that all 50 states should play a role?” he said of the Obama campaign.

The Obama campaign has said the delegates from Florida and Michigan ultimately will be recognized at the convention, but argues it is unfair to seat them according to how Michigan voted Jan. 15 and Florida voted Jan. 29.

Mrs. Clinton won both contests after neither Democrat campaigned in those states. Mr. Obama had his name removed from the Michigan ballot to honor the DNC rules setting out the order for primaries and caucuses.

Mr. Singer rebuffed those arguments, saying Mr. Obama made a “political decision” to take himself off the ballot, and some of his supporters urged Michigan Democrats to vote for “uncommitted” instead of Mrs. Clinton.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean has said he is committed to finding a compromise in which Florida and Michigan delegates will be seated.

Donald Lambro and Sean Lengell contributed to this report from Washington.

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